Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I keep thinking of "one more thing" to add on this Conan mess

So here's a bunch of "one more" things.

For all of Jay's nice guy image, remember this is the same guy who scabbed during the Writers' Strike and never gave breaks to new comics. Johnny always did. That's how comedians like, uh... Jay Leno were discovered.

Thanks to one of my commenters for the inside story on Conan's rally. Apparently Conan was out there shaking hands and buying pizzas. Glad to hear it. He's a class guy and that's what I would have expected. After all, he was a fellow SIMPSONS writer. But how stupid to not show that during the piece?

NBC was stupid on so many levels for asking Jay to step down in five years. The end result aside, why risk pissing off your TONIGHT SHOW host who was number one? Jay happened to be gracious (which was yet another blunder) but what if he wasn't? You really want a guy on the air unhappy for FIVE long years? Believe me, a pissed talk show host can make enough noise that eventually you yank him off the air. Then you've lost your number one guy long before you had to. And Jay goes across the street and beats the shit out of whoever you replace him with.

I had Joe Flint from the LA TIMES on my KABC radio show last night and he brought out a great point. All of Jeff Zucker's decisions are geared towards the "quick fix". Why develop new shows when you can just "Supersize" the ones you have? Why make a hard choice on who to keep -- Leno or Conan -- when you can just throw them both on the air? Let the chips and ratings fall where they may.

On Charlie Rose Mr. Zucker said it was up to the leader to make bold decisions and if they don't work to have the courage to reverse them. Uh, the decision was made because your affiliates were about to revolt and the merger with Comcast still wasn't complete. Not because of your strong leadership ability. That's like when ballplayers admit to steroid use and say they just needed to "come clean". Bullshit! They didn't come clean. They were caught. Big difference.

And if the leader makes a monumental mistake shouldn't he take the fall? Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little was fired for leaving a hall-of-fame pitcher in a game one batter too long.

The question I keep asking is: did the 10:00 show fail because it's just a bad idea or might it have worked (at least a little better) if someone else hosted it? What if THE DAILY SHOW and COLBERT REPORT were in that slot? I'm sure the ratings wouldn't be great but they'd be better than Leno's and both shows are hip. NBC would draw a much younger audience. Maybe shows like THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK would finally get the decent numbers they deserve.

Another big question: Just where does Conan go? FOX is not a slam-dunk. Their affiliates do not want to give up an hour. It would take a lot of arm twisting. Might be done but it won't be easy. ABC has said they're happy with NIGHTLINE and Kimmell, and CBS obviously has no need. That leaves cable. HBO is not going to do a nightly show. Weekly, sure but not every night. Basic cable: he could follow Stewart and Colbert on COMEDY CENTRAL but that puts him at midnight again. If he wanted to go on at midnight he could have just stayed at NBC with ten times the audience. And networks like USA and BRAVO are owned by -- guess who -- NBC. So that's not to going to happen. Is there a syndicated deal out there? I'm sure Conan will back but maybe in a different format.

And finally, I take no relish in all of this. I spent most of my career working for NBC (between CHEERS, WINGS, and FRASIER). NBC stood for class (and the A-TEAM was entertaining). I was proud as a you-know-what to be associated with them. It breaks my heart to see what has become of such a once-stellar broadcasting network.

Okay. I'll stop. Wait... one more thing. I'm on 790 KABC again tonight from 6:30-10 Pacific. If you can't access it through their website you can go to itunes radio -- news, talk, scroll down and you'll find KABC. Or you can just go on about your life.

Now I'll stop.

42 comments:

chris mcdermott said...

I was having a fairly good day til you mentioned Grady Little.

Dave said...

I love Leno. I love Conan. I'm attracted to the inside gossip like a moth to a Coleman lantern but I hate the conflict.

I want to love my favorite entertainers. I don't really want to know them personally unless, of course, they fit the image I have created for them.

Still -- more, please!

chris mcdermott said...

okay, now I feel better since you're hosting again tonite. Just keep the Bosox out of the convo.

imajazzbaby said...

I hear Bonnie Hunt's show is kaput and Conan could probably have her set too. "Tuesday Afternoons with Conan."

Rodney said...

I have enough real world issues of my own I'm dealing with to delve way deep into this but Conan really doesn't have a suitable home for what he does from here on out that I can see-but he does have a name and a whole lot of talent. It might be best to find properties, develop them, act as a writer/story editor, whatever he might like to do. This is hardly the end for Conan-it's a completely new beginning in his life where he's being given the opportunity to explore a myraid of possibilities. You can't really top The Tonight Show on your resume and none of it is his fault, anyway-does it really make sense to spend the rest of his life chasing that thing that is now gone? He had nearly 20 years doing an amazing job very few people get to do and now he can do virtually anything else of his own choosing thanks to that.

Jay, on the other hand, is someone no one with any ethics or class would touch at this point-as Ken rightly pointed out scabbing during the writer's strike, throwing Letterman under the bus, throwing Conan under the bus and not allowing other comics to showcase their talent for fear the ego of this gigantic putz might be hurt. Which proves that in some cases all the money in the world doesn't mean you aren't a total loser.

Dave said...

scab -- noun:

1. A person capable of working on his own terms rather than relying on a committee to define him.

John said...

I suppose Fox can sign Conan and immediately put him on their OnO stations, which would hit 13 of the Top 15 markets -- nowhere near the pentration of NBC or CBS, but certainly enough of a starter set so that if Conan's shows in the big markets drew good numbers, the smaller markets would follow along quickly.

As for the overall fight, Zucker comes off as the one who caused this by getting greedy first in 2004, when he decided Leno would be fading by '09 and the network couldn't afford to lose O'Brien, and then again last year, when he decided NBC couldn't afford to have Leno on opposite the Tonight Show on ABC or Fox.

Combine that with the already-in-last-in-the-ratings prime time even before Jay's 10 p.m. show went on and the train wreck Zucker has made of most of NBC's cable properties, and you know he has to have photos somewhere of GE's CEO Jeff Imhelt with a live boy or a dead hooker to have kept his job for this long.

Rodney said...

I just don't see Conan working on Fox as well as NBC for a lot of reasons. I think it's telling that when Letterman negotiated with Michael Ovitz he wanted a network over syndication.

Here's part of the problem as I see it: What is it on Fox you have as a lead in to Conan? Lie To Me? Other Fox dramas? They really aren't compelling to watch and for the viewer a whole new set of habits has to be instigated just to watch Conan...that's the thing with The Tonight Show and Late Night-you're watching the news and even though a lot of it is pre-programmed B.S. you're having all these stories drilled into your brain which is now feeling all kinds of unsettled emotion-hence the desire to watch Letterman or god forbid, Leno, to come down from that and give your brain some much needed levity before you drift off to dreamland. But with Conan on Fox you have to seek him out specifically and change those habits you've taken up over the years in a lot of cases you weren't even aware of. And Fox stations air a whole houir of news at 10, that's a lot to sit through and it's so inane that it can sometimes be comparable to the real Fox News. Who really wants to give up an hour of their life every night watching a Fox news show at 10? If, on the other hand, Fox goes to a three hour a night schedule and adjusts the local news the same way as NBC, CBS and ABC then just maybe you can get those viewers back-they've already got the habit, all they need do is change the channel-so you have Conan at his best in hopes of them doing exactly that.

But to do it the first way? I don't know...I doubt it would work. And the second means a much bigger investment for Fox and five additional hours of prime time programming per week that better be good.

Jake said...

If it helps, I just saw Jeff Zucker near the NBC Ark--he was loading it up with his bad ideas two-by-two.

Rodney said...

I seriously doubt forty cubits (whatever the hell that is) would hold all of Jeff Zucker's bad ideas. But that was pretty good!

l.a.guy said...

At the risk of disagreeing with Ken, I don't think it's fair to call Leno a scab and eventually even the WGA ultimately came to the same conclusion.

I don't understand why Leno is the bad guy in this? No question Conan was screwed, but Leno has no control over how NBC decides to mismanage its schedule. If you want to fault him for not telling Zucker to f*ck off and put his entire staff out of work then fine, but I don't see it.

The bottom line is Jeff Zucker is a incompetent moron.

Jake said...

@Rodney: Well, that was just for ARK 1, there were at least 27 that I counted.

@l.a. guy: Did Ken call Leno a scab? If not, I will. And I don't care what the Guide decided--I saw enough stuff at the back gate during the strike to convince me. Besides, O.J. was found legally not guilty of murder, but I'm convinced he did it and I bet you are too. Getting off, is not the same as innocent.

Anonymous said...

Few people have pointed out how Leno a couple times made it very clear, just as Conan was starting his run at the Tonight Show, how much he wished he could be back on the Tonight Show. That showed no class at all. Leno didn't have to agree 5 years ago to retire from the show. If he said, No thanks, I want to keep the show, I don't think NBC would have insisted on it and lost him instead of Conan. He made the decision, and then he regretted it and started to sabotage Conan's chances.

Imagine the reaction of Johnny Carson had said in interviews just as Leno was getting started, "Gee, I'd really like to get the Tonight Show back."

It's also been documented how Jay and his crazy manager at the time kept putting pressure on NBC years ago to make Johnny Carson retire, another scummy move that somehow people have forgiven Leno for.

Plus, Leno blatantly stole one of Letterman's signature bits -- "Small Town News" -- and changed the name to "Headlines" -- and somehow got away with it. This isn't the case of say, a comic today doing something that, for example, Steve Allen or Jack Parr used to do years ago, but one guy directly ripping off a contemporary and competitor.

Leno also has been accused of ripping off Howard Stern
(e.g., Howard Stern -- http://www.popeater.com/2009/10/20/is-jay-leno-ripping-off-howard-stern/) and reportedly paid a comic to let him use the comic's story as his own in his autobiography! (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/opinion/articles/961216/archive_035007.htm).

In sum, I think Leno may have the appearance of a nice, likable guy, but I think he's a gutless snake.

Vermonter17032 said...

Hey, Conan can replace Simon Cowell on American Idol!

amyp3 said...

When Julianna Margulies made her snark at the GGs the other night I was thinking, Well, there's somebody with a history at NBC. If Zucker's decimation of this once-great network bothers me, with no professional ties to it, I've been wondering how people like you, like Margulies feel.

Let’s all do our part to keep turning zuck into the swear word it deserves to be.

Gridlock said...

Why won't HBO do a daily?

Why wouldn't it perfect for Conan?

Rodney said...

What would HBO really need Conan for? Especially daily? I wonder if that would work-would viewers tune in for 45-50 minutes a night of Conan? I wonder how watchable any of these guys might be long term without commercials to break segments up and also give the hosts and staff a couple of minutes to prepare for the next segment?

BigTed said...

I actually think it would be hard for Conan to succeed on cable or in another time slot doing the same show he does now. All the late-night comedy shows are pretty much the same, and have been since Carson's time: monologue, comedy bit, interview, interview, band. Some hosts are better than others, and some parts are more entertaining than others, but they're really pretty inconsequential, and so similar that they really only work in that 11:35-1:35 network bloc. (I think that's one of the many reasons Jay's show failed at 10.)

"The Daily Show," on the other hand, has more laughs per minute, and you really can learn things from watching it -- so it can work at any time. (I often watch the new episodes at 8 p.m., since Comedy Central has a single nationwide feed.)

If Conan goes to cable (or even Fox), or does a prime time show, the only way he'll get half-decent ratings will be if he does something different enough that it seems like an event, and not just more of the same.

gottacook said...

Both Conan's Tonight Show and Leno's Leno Show were weakened by being too similar to their predecessors. In Conan's case, the return of Andy Richter was a good idea in theory, but the use of space in that huge auditorium (with Andy at a lectern much of the time, at least until recently), combined with the error of using Andy to gratingly announce the show, turned me right off - and I was a fan of the Richter years on Late Night (until 2000, I think). Conan also should have commissioned new music for the top of the show and the end credits; as much as I enjoyed the '93 opening by John Lurie, a new theme would have given the show something extra to distinguish it from Conan's Late Night.

Kevin B said...

NBC had to know Conan at 11:30 was never going to do Leno numbers. He simply doesn't have the same appeal to the Leno audience. Conan was always better off going somewhere else, and he probably should have 5 years ago.

What's "hip, funny, and daring" at 12:30 is "dangerous, unfunny, and irritating" to a lot of the 11:30 audience. Ever since Conan took over The Tonight Show it felt like he was doing a show with certain restrictions, and I lost interest early. Not to mention that absolutely terrible blue backdrop.

I'm a Letterman guy anyway. But I wish Conan luck wherever he lands.

Anonymous said...

Why do people assume Conoa "must" do another talk show? He was a talented writer before he was a performer. Now he's a talented writer with 40 million dollars and a lot of cachet. He could do specials. He could create shows. He could create something entirely new, something that doesn't even air in late night.

te said...

Plus, Leno blatantly stole one of Letterman's signature bits -- "Small Town News" -- and changed the name to "Headlines" -- and somehow got away with it. This isn't the case of say, a comic today doing something that, for example, Steve Allen or Jack Parr used to do years ago, but one guy directly ripping off a contemporary and competitor.

Leno also has been accused of ripping off Howard Stern
(e.g., Howard Stern -- http://www.popeater.com/2009/10/20/is-jay-leno-ripping-off-howard-stern/) and reportedly paid a comic to let him use the comic's story as his own in his autobiography! (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/opinion/articles/961216/archive_035007.htm).


He also blatantly stole that celebrity racing thing (complete with the times Velcro'd to a pole) from "Top Gear."

mcp said...

"te said...
He also blatantly stole that celebrity racing thing (complete with the times Velcro'd to a pole) from "Top Gear."

Actually, NBC has the rights to that because they own the rights to make a US "Top Gear." According to Wikipedia, NBC decided not to put it on because of the failure of the return of "Knight Rider."

Leno did turn down hosting the US "Top Gear." I thought he should have used one of his 10 P.M. shows for that.

Ben said...

Ken, in case you hadn't seen this yet...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJ9m1an-pQ8

The Chinese analysis of the Leno/Conan deal, complete with CGI Conan, Leno, Letterman, Zucker, and Incredible Hulk.

Matt said...

I'm a Letterman/Ferguson guy, but I've always enjoyed Conan whenever I've watched. But the problem with Conan's show is that it's about Conan - it's not about what's in the news, it's not about his guests and what they're on to discuss, and it's not a meta comment on the late-night format itself (which Letterman so brilliant does every night) - anything and everything is his excuse to do an impression or go on a run.

Which is fine at 12:35, but the 11:35 audience is a different animal. They're basically looking to be lulled to sleep - which is why Carson and Leno, amiable, low-key, seemingly-normal guys, were so successful at it. Conan's shtick is fun at 12:35, but kind of annoying at 11:35.

I think Conan and the late night show are over. What I'd really love to see Conan do is go back to writing - LOOKWELL! is one of the funniest pilots I've ever seen, and MARGE VS. THE MONORAIL basically shaped the entire tone of The Simpsons forever. Or maybe get together with Robert Smigel and put on the world's best sketch show. Either way, it'll be interesting to see what happens to him over the next few years.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

"He's a class guy and that's what I would have expected. After all, he was a fellow SIMPSONS writer. But how stupid to not show that during the piece?"

That sounds like the classiest part.

What do you make of Dave's take on all this? Has he been holding a grudge against Jay all these years? Is he offended by how Jay handled this debacle? Did Jay piss him off during the writer's strike? Is he just doing bits and he actually adores Jay?

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

"Plus, Leno blatantly stole one of Letterman's signature bits -- "Small Town News" -- and changed the name to "Headlines" -- and somehow got away with it."

Dave mentions this from time to time. FWIW I love Dave and find Leno more soporific than Ambien, but this doesn't strike me as that big a deal. Compared to stealing a character or dialog, which would be egregious, this seems like a pretty generic bit. And to the extent it isn't, it's not as if anyone is fooled about who came up with it first.

But maybe I'm wrong. Ken, please set me straight if I am.

V. Salt said...

The union decided Leno wasn't a scab so he isn't. We shouldn't throw words like that around.

Rob said...

I was reading a sample of a book about the Comedy Store on my Kindle and it mentions the Letterman/Leno feud and how most comics sided with Letterman because he still had standups on his show, while Leno claimed they didn't attract ratings.

The biggest problem with Leno is that he simply isn't funny. Since he took over the Tonight Show, he did little with the format beyond stealing bits from other people (as Letterman gleefully pointed out). His monologue is always filled with obvious and mean spirited jokes, and his continual repetition of his stale punchlines while laughing at them made him look like he was at amateur night at the chuckle hut. In his interviews, it was clear that he wasn't paying a bit of attention and he rarely showed any signs of wit.

Conan worked his ass off for his show, spending months assuming he was about to be fired any day. He rolled up his sleeves and created a funny and different show.

One thing that hasn't been pointed out is that Conan moved from NYC to LA. I've always heard the studio audiences in the two cities are much different, which could have made Conan's show seem flat at 11:30.

Jonathan said...

I'm of the mind that it wasn't at all the time-slot, but the product in the time-slot. It's about the lead -in audience. Leno follows the local news much more easily than he follows slightly edgier 9:00 & 9:30 fare. The audience for 30 Rock is not Leno's audience. But the audience for local news IS his audience. NBC thought they were trying something bold, and perhaps they were (in the abstract). But the execution of the idea was really just misguided and poorly researched.

Funny thing, though -- the whole nightmare HAS had the twin effects of 1). making people talk about late-night tv again, and 2). increasing ratings, at least in the short term. I'm surprised they didn't hold off the drama until sweeps.

Gridlock said...

Actually, NBC has the rights to that because they own the rights to make a US "Top Gear." According to Wikipedia, NBC decided not to put it on because of the failure of the return of "Knight Rider."

This is from Wrongipedia so YMMV, but does US TV really get made along these lines?

Knight Rider has a car, and failed, therefore all car shows must die?

Just... wow.

WV: failedn - An r

Eric said...

Maybe Conan could go back to his roots and revitalize The Simpsons. Or SNL.

Tod Hunter said...

"te said...
He also blatantly stole that celebrity racing thing (complete with the times Velcro'd to a pole) from "Top Gear."

MCP responded:
Actually, NBC has the rights to that because they own the rights to make a US "Top Gear."

Oh-KAY. The moral niceties have been observed, but the creativity -- not so much.

--t

Anonymous said...

1. Jay Leno kicked Letterman's ass in the ratings for a decade or so. Conan took that established audience and proceeded to get his ass kicked in quick and monumental fashion.

2. Tuesday's Leno show got 6.3 million viewers. Last Thursday's back-to-back episodes of 30 Rock got 5.1 million viewers. Leno's show has succeeded as well as anyone with a brain should have expected.

And...

"What if THE DAILY SHOW and COLBERT REPORT were in that slot? I'm sure the ratings wouldn't be great but they'd be better than Leno's and both shows are hip."

It's brilliant thinking like that which gave us Jon Stewart hosting the Oscars.

Mike

A_Homer said...

I agree with some of the comments that Conan should invent something else -- HE should step up the game the way the supposed 10pm slot was supposed to be something "different" in a good way. He's got a cv like no one else, from Simpsons writer/producer to surviving and eventually making the late, late spot his own, and finally being rewarded the Tonite show. Oh wait - that last one is odd -- all the others he took when they had some resonance and could be "cool". That was not the case when he took the Tonite show. And there was no way he was going to fit to corporate standards. Most say the show was boring in the end of the day, without the emotions here and onw. The point that the NBC corporates don't want his work is made cruelly to his face now, as was with Letterman. So he has to decide on his options. It would seem odd if he repeats in a smaller time slot, what he wasn't succesful in now. And why? He has the chance to come up with something that is even more of an experiment for a year - four specials, whatever. He can re-group and still have his exposure on tv. I don't think another talk show is needed but something that looks forward. The only problem is, Conan has always looked back to the "great" tv of the past and heros. He may not be the one to start with something himself, rather to work with what exists. In that case... tough situation ahead.

thomas tucker said...

The Tonight Show has sucked ever since Johnny Carson left. They should have ended the show and started over fresh.

Rob said...

There is something amusing in thinking that NBC walks out of this keeping Jay Leno and a masturbating bear.

Benton Harbor said...

Where the hell's the humor in that masterbating bear bit? Crap like that is what gave Conan the low ratings in the Tonight Show slot.

And don't cry for Conan. He walks away with $32 million for losing an audience.

Jonathan said...

MIke says: Tuesday's Leno show got 6.3 million viewers. Last Thursday's back-to-back episodes of 30 Rock got 5.1 million viewers. Leno's show has succeeded as well as anyone with a brain should have expected.

6.3 is a big, anomalous, controversy-driven bump for Leno's show which has hovered between the mid-3s and low-4s since it began. True, 30 Rock and The Office (and all of NBCs fare) have performed no better than that, and Leno's show was no big drop from what ER had been doing in its last years. I guess it's just surprising that the brains in question would go with something that they could be reasonably sure wouldn't generate any significant ratings juice. So, yeah, he performed pretty much as expected, and what low expectations those were.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Is there anything to keep Conan from being Letterman's "co-host"? Even during the fist week that Leno's back on the Tonight Show?

rhys said...

Conan didn't mention showing up at the rally because he is very humble. He wanted to acknowledge the fans, not show off the fact that he was out there briefly. The actual NEWS footage of the rallies showed him showing up, that's what you should've been looking at.

I don't think any other talk-show type show would've worked at 10pm. The problem wasn't so much the ratings of the actual show, those were around what was expected although a little on the low side, it was that lower ratings of the affiliates after the show. The only thing that was going to work for the affiliates were shows pulling down a bare minimum of a 2.0 18-49 rating. Preferably closer to 3.0. The Daily Show gets nothing like that.

joedungan said...

Interesting observations about Leno purportedly scabbing during the writers' strike (I'd forgotten about that) and not helping new comics -- in addition to the other criticisms of him written on this thread. I say that because this is the same guy who was one of the leaders of the famous comedians' strike against The Comedy Store and Mitzi Shore, the strike that demanded that the comics, some of whom were living hand-to-mouth, get some modest pay for their sets.

My, how things change.