Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Leno-Conan soap opera continues

So it’s pretty much official. Conan O’Brien departs the TONIGHT SHOW Friday night after seven months. Wow. Jerry Lester and Dagmar lasted longer in that seat. Some more thoughts on this whole debacle.

Jeff Zucker went on Charlie Rose and portrayed himself as the victim in this media brouhaha. Isn’t that kind of like the Menendez Brothers pleading for leniency for killing their parents by saying they’re now orphans? Zucker claims he’s received death threats. I don’t doubt that but really people, isn’t that where we cross the line? The man juggled his primetime and latenight line-ups, he didn’t cause the collapse of the economy or democracy.

A couple of days ago Conan supporters held a rally for him at Universal. He showed it on the program Monday. A few hundred people getting drenched in protest. Conan thanked them and called it “sweet”. “Sweet”? I don’t know why anyone is dumb enough to stand in the rain to show support of a television show but the least Conan could have done is gone out there and shook each and every one of their hands. And maybe given out autographed pictures of the masturbating bear.

Jay went on his show Monday night and addressed the issue, attempting a little damage control. His good guy image has been somewhat tarnished by millions of viewers now thinking he’s a backstabber and Indian giver. He claims NBC came to him recently, said the primetime show wasn’t working, and proposed he go back to 11:30 while Conan moves back to midnight. And Jay was assured that Conan was okay with this. What? A mis-calculation by the network? Is that possible? So he’s the victim.

Let’s review. Zucker is the victim. Jay is the victim. Conan is the victim. Who isn’t the victim?

Charlie Rose.

28 comments:

Tod Hunter said...

FWIW, Conan did more than say it was "Sweet." He walked by, across the street so he wouldn't be mobbed; he sent out La Bamba, one of the members of the Tonight Show band, in an improvised Popemobile; and he bought pizzas for teh demonstrators from Miceli's.

He also is reportedly fighting to get substantial severance for his staff, many of whom recently moved out from New York.

He may not have shaken everybody's hand, but he didn't just sit in his office and say "That was sweet" either.

--t

Papageiena said...

And he made the rain stop. :)

Patrick said...

Yadda-yadda-yadda ... (drum roll, rim shot)

Anonymous said...

Zucker showing off his programming genius there by introducing title blocks that stretch into the next time slot an extra ten minutes.

A. Buck Short said...

Ahhh, I yearn for the good old days of ’83, when Cheers took 4 Emmys, and Judd Hirsch stuck it to Grant Tinker. Is it just me, or has the entertainment industry exceeded its quota of people either named Zucker or who sound like Zucker? By way of contrast, I remember when there seemed to be a plethora of Turtletaubs, and that didn’t bother me a bit.

Pat Reeder said...

To be honest, would you want to shake hands with someone whose best friend is a masturbating bear?

Also, not buying Jay's "what could I do, I'm powerless" routine. He could have backed up Conan when he made a stand to protect the integrity of the Tonight Show. Instead, he watched Conon go out on a limb for the show, then sawed it off. He let NBC know that there was an experienced scab, ready, willing and able to take over on a moment's notice, so they didn't need to even consider working with Conan to improve the show and boost ratings, the way they did for Jay for 18 months. And his concern for his staff is truly touching. It's almost as moving as his lack of concern for Conan's staff, who'll not only be unemployed but freshly transplanted to new apartment leases 3,000 miles from home.

VW: wataphsa: Uncle Toonoose's catchphrase from 1956. "Wataphsa?!!" (Spit take).

Anonymous said...

"His good guy image has been someone tarnished"

someone = somewhat?

"Also, not buying Jay's "what could I do, I'm powerless" routine. He could have backed up Conan when he made a stand to protect the integrity of the Tonight Show."

And sacrificed the jobs of the 175 people who work on his show. What a selfish jerk Leno is.

Ray R. said...

Is it just me, or should Conan maybe consider tossing in a few bucks from his forthcoming estimated $40 million parachute package to help fund the uprooted lives of his suddenly unemployed staffers? Even a mere $5 million of that would go a long way...and earn him the lifetime loyalty of 175 human beings. Not such a bad deal, really.

Pat Reeder said...

To Anonymous:

Either way, someone's large staff of people is going to lose their jobs. Funny how it always just happens to be the other guy's and not Jay's. Jay's staff were already prepared for the end a year ago when they got a reprieve. They also are long-established in L.A. Conan's uprooted their families and moved all the way across the country. Once again, we get the shuck and jive from Leno, that gee whiz, he was just tryin' to make everybody happy and do what he was told, and yet somehow, that always ends up benefitting him and screwing everybody else.

You know what he could have done, just once? Not gone along with the network suits to help them screw a fellow comedian. Ooh, but what if they sued him? I imagine he can afford a pretty good lawyer and easily get out of that contract. I once discovered that I was working for someone who was screwing over his partner, and I quit. I was offered more money, then threatened with a lawsuit, but I wouldn't give in and he eventually caved. And I wasn't sitting on Leno's millions.

As for the questions about why Conan doesn't share his payoff with his staff, there is no finalized deal yet, and we don't know what he is getting or what he is negotiating for his staff behind closed doors. Rumor is that this is dragging out because he's fighting NBC for the best severance package he can get for them. I'd prefer to wait until I see what he actually signs off on before I condemn him for being selfish.

Anonymous said...

Ok, this is where I get pissed off - Jay is a mega-millionaire yet has this odd shtick of claiming his 175 employees in some altruistic way - like THAT is what's on his mind - the future of 175 people? A mega millionaire should be worried about a network that employs thousands and also the affiliates and so on. NOT his "shop" as if he is some bricks and mortars shop and worried if he can make he payment after 15 years. Seriously. They should also be good enough to GET OTHER JOBS if they are that important. Or is THAT the reason for television working the way it does - for a hundred plus employees, people don't do anything new or daring? Seriously, he is a mega-millionaire, and his car-hobby employs and spins off jobs and has more serious argument for continuation for all the specialty shops who must be happy he still invests in those antiques.

Leno's actions the last days reminds us how stupid the audience he plays to is - really, the jokes one could have made about his childish marriage and the weird symbolism that he points to all the babies born during his show. Notice neither Letterman nor Conan nor Kimmel ever took him on that as a way to attack him. Leno is just desperate at this point, and his audience, like Handler, are all corporate yes-people in the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

"Either way, someone's large staff of people is going to lose their jobs. Funny how it always just happens to be the other guy's and not Jay's."

Not true, Conan could have preserved the jobs of his own staff by agreeing to move to 12:05. (Jay was willing to accept the half-hour show proposed by NBC) I understand why Conan chose not too, but the reality is he knew with or without the show he was going to be set financially, not so for his staff.

"You know what he could have done, just once? Not gone along with the network suits to help them screw a fellow comedian."

How is Jay aiding and abetting NBC in screwing Conan? If you believe Jay's account he was never given a choice about leaving the Tonight Show. He was told they were giving the show to Conan. Jay was prepared to leave and even wanted out of his contract early but NBC wanted to keep him. He says one consideration was that he would get to keep his staff.

No question he's also acting in his own self-interest, but I believe that he feels some loyalty to his own people and that ways heavily on his decision making process.

If you want to hate Jay fine, but I don't see how he's the villain in this. Zucker on the other hand...

Vermonter17032 said...

Actually, the victim is the audience. And perhaps the local affiliate stations. NBC: Nothing But Chowderheads.

Will Teullive said...

Leno should have left the network in 2009 like he says he wanted to (wink wink), then none of this would be happening right now.

Leno got what he wanted 'The Tonight Show'...again. Let's just see if he can bring his old audience back with him, I don't think it will happen. I wonder who will be hosting seven months from now?

Nathan said...

Oh, c'mon. This is the most entertaining thing to happen to latenight in years.

And Letterman's (somehow) lame, yet dead-on impersonation of Leno is absolutely hysterical.

Ian said...

Hmmm. I sincerely hope that Conan pops up on Fox or ABC with a show opposite Leno and Letterman. A three-way horse race could really invigorate late night TV. If Conan's show were to steal away a piece of Leno's already eroded audience, NBC's dominance in this time slot would be gone forever.

But let's not forget one fundamental: Leno's shows of late have been crap - I haven't been able to watch for more than a few minutes lately before changing the channel in disgust - unfunny recurring bits like "JMZ" have no place on network TV, and why make poor Emily Blunt don a blindfold the other night? What WAS that with the guy in the Burger King mask? More corporate shilling? I was embarrassed for Blunt as this bit got underway and clicked off.

Anyway, if Leno had been putting on a brilliant and innovative show all this time, we wouldn't be so up in arms about his move back to the 11:35 slot, but again, it's been CRAP. While were at it, could we please go back to having the show start at 11:30?

Chalmers said...

Of course, we now have the benefit of hindsight and it's a huge amount of money to swallow, but Jay and NBC could have avoided this with some straight talk and decent management.

Monday, Leno talked about being "fired" with five years' notice so that NBC could use that date to hold Conan. That's not how he portrayed it at the time. He said how he'd be tired of the routine after 17 years, and at age 60 he'd finally be able to take his wife out to dinner.

Maybe he was being good-guy Jay to help his reputation, or to be NBC's loyal soldier. But if he were angry, he could have told NBC that he wouldn't go along with any succession plan and that, if it came to it, NBC would have to choose him or Conan, and he would have won.

As 2009 approached, it was clear that Jay still enjoyed his job, dominated the time slot, wasn't too concerned about taking Mavis to dinner, and that NBC was having buyer's remorse as Craig Ferguson chipped at Conan's 12:35 ratings.

This was Zucker's moment to be the executive and tell the GE machers that writing the huge poison pill check to Conan was the safest solution. The money would be repaid soon enough from the revenue that Jay brought in by winning his time slot. The show might even be re-energized with this new lease on life.

Instead, Zucker minced around and tried to find a way to keep Jay in the bullpen while satisfying the requirements of poison-pill clause.

Again, Jay played the good soldier, giving Conan the on-air blessing that Johnny never offered him, while going along with the prime-time plan that would almost certainly sink Conan (though that might have happened regardless).

Did anyone ever ask Jay what his reaction would have been if NBC had decided to precede his Tonight Show with Johnny every night? Despite the animosity with Johnny, did he appreciate the fact that Johnny disappeared after leaving the Tonight Show?

I can't determine if Jay is really a good guy or a passive-aggressive type who schemes to get what he wants while appearing to be a good guy. But if he regretted his original agreement to the plan, he had five years and tremendous leverage to reverse it.

Instead, he went along with the charade, even though he now says he (like everyone else) expected it to fail. He had to know that he wasn't a longterm 10 p.m. solution and was taking the doomed job only to serve as Tonight's host-in-exile rather than starting over at at a new network.

I think the only unexpected factor was the low late news ratings which prompted the affiliate rebellion and moved up the timetable to "bring Jay home."

On Monday, Jay once again boasted about how he makes these decisions without a manager/agent. Despite their sleazy reputation (often justly deserved), they do serve a purpose. These people serve as the bad guy/girl who goes to Zucker and tells him to sink Conan and swallow the poison pill because it's in their mutual best interest.

Everyone knows the Helen Kushnick story, and you can't blame Leno for being wary of restarting that drama. On the other hand, he was with her for a long time, so she did give him something that he needed and probably still needs.

Mr. said...

I was at the rally. In addition to everything that Tod Hunter pointed out, Conan ran through the crowd, high-fiving the fans. He also bought umbrellas, doughnuts and coffee for the crowd.

Anonymous said...

I love how this has become a moment where cultural snobbery has become a totally up front thing.

Conan in "hip" and "cool", so he's the good guy.

Jay isn't "hip" or "cool", so he's the bad guy.

The fact that Jay's been screwed around just as much as Conan doesn't matter. Conan's failures as host of The Tonight Show don't matter. The fact that the Jay Leno Show has actually not been a failure by any reasonable standard doesn't matter.

No, all that matters is that people who think a masturbating bear is funnier than asking questions of morons on the street are angry that most folks don't agree with them.

Mike

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

and Judd Hirsch stuck it to Grant Tinker.

Over Taxi? I loved that show, never heard that story, but I do seem to recall they got jerked all over the schedule in the last season or so, and had an off-the-rails period with the whole Latka/Vic Andy Kauffman ego trip.

And Letterman's (somehow) lame, yet dead-on impersonation of Leno is absolutely hysterical.

Yeah, he makes the lameness reflect back on Leno, doesn't he? The old man is in rare, cranky form. He can carry a grudge like nobody's business, he's getting his own back on NBC, and I'm loving it. When he says "I've know Jay for thirty-five years, and this is vintage Jay", you just know there are lots of old stories from comedy clubs of the seventies

William C Bonner said...

I know it shows I'm old, but I thought that way back when Leno took over the tonight show from Johnny Carson, and Conan got the late show, NBC announced the succession of Conan to the tonight show in approximately 16 years.

I thought at the time NBC set that in place because they didn't like the power that Johnny Carson had over them at the time.

I have liked both Conan and Letterman more than Leno during Leno's reign as Tonight Show host. Since Conan moved to the tonight show, I confirmed that I just like watching the New York shows more than the LA shows. I didn't really like Conan in LA, but wasn't going to switch my late night viewing habits. (I may watch letterman, and then may have watched conan if I was still awake. Not going to switch to conan and then figure out who's next)

Was it Johnny Carson who took the Tonight show to LA? Could Conan have taken it back to NYC?

Chalmers said...

I think Johnny moved from NYC to Burbank around '72, ten years into his 30-year run.

"Taxi" did well in the ratings on ABC for a few years when it was in a strong sitcom timeslot. When it got moved, it couldn't draw the audience on its own.

ABC canceled it, and NBC, struggling in last place, tried to establish a "quality" beachhead on Thursday with new shows like "Fame," "Cheers," and "Hill Street Blues."

Given the Taxi-Cheers connection and the show's high-quality reputation, NBC brought Taxi in at 9:30 and promoted it heavily.

However, the ratings didn't follow, and NBC cancled it after a year. Upon winning the Emmy post-cancellation, Judd Hirsch ripped NBC for abandoning "quality" so quickly (though they did keep "Cheers" and "Hill Street" despite similar lousy ratings).

On the other hand, renewing the show for a sixth season would have required new contracts for the cast, several of whom had bigger projects in the pipeline. Grant Tinker and NBC might say that if Hirsch and the rest of the cast wanted to keep Taxi on the air so badly, they could have discounted their salary demands.

Jake said...

Can you not use the term "Indian Giver"?

Brian Scully said...

Has anyone noticed that Jay is basically stabbing Conan O'Brien in the back the same way he did it to Johnny Carson?... only THIS time he blames the network, but back then he blamed Helen Kushnick for forcing Johnny out. These "nice" guys like Leno hire people to be their "bad" guy but make no mistake, THEY, and in this instance, I'm talking about Jay Leno, make all the decisions. Jay Leno was the beginning of the end for "The Tonight Show" at least as far as comedy, class, and ratings. He has done nothing but ruin what Johnny Carson built over 30 years. The Tonight Show is dead and I think the best way to honor Johnny is to never watch it again.

essenceofBelgianwildflowers said...

I do not feel sorry for ANY of the Leno-Conan-Zucker-NBC players. Period. Take your big mo-fo egos out of the equation, gentlemen.
Seems at least one or two of you are over-paid and ungrateful.
Bottom line, guys? You are ALL replaceable. Quit your fucking whining! Have some diginity and self-respect. Stop acting like a bunch of selfish pig pussies.
This makes me want to boycott every single one of you.
Brandon Tartikoff must be shaking his head at you. You guys are pathetic!

D. McEwan said...

"Ian said...
Hmmm. I sincerely hope that Conan pops up on Fox or ABC with a show opposite Leno and Letterman. A three-way horse race could really invigorate late night TV."


According to Jimmy Kimmil, it already is a three-way horse race. I'm not saying he's right, just that, like Prince Geoffrey in The Lion in Winter, "It's the mention I miss."

"But let's not forget one fundamental: Leno's shows of late have been crap - I haven't been able to watch for more than a few minutes lately before changing the channel in disgust ... Anyway, if Leno had been putting on a brilliant and innovative show all this time, we wouldn't be so up in arms about his move back to the 11:35 slot, but again, it's been CRAP."

I gotta agree 100%. There is plenty of blame to go around in this mess, servings for Zucker, for Conan, for Jimmy Fallon, but in the final analysis, it was Jay's responsibilty to put on a good show, and he didn't, not that I was surprised, as his Tonight Show has been unwatchable for a decade and a half.

"Chalmers said...
I can't determine if Jay is really a good guy or a passive-aggressive type who schemes to get what he wants while appearing to be a good guy."


Really? Because it's been very, very clear for many years that Jay is not the King of Late-Night, but the King of Passive-Aggressive. Helen Kushnick wasn't an abberation. She was the manifestation of the inner-Jay, doing what he didn't want to be perceived as doing, but having his full support, until her evil became so manifest, that he had to cut her adrift and wash his hands of her, and get someone subtler to handle his dirty work.

Anonymous said...

I like Chamlmers' non-emotional and well reasoned explanation. He's not taking sides. If Jay's Tonight Show was so "unwatchable" why was it a rating's success? The only folks who liked it were the people.... not the showbiz snobs who always prefer Letterman. Personally I liked both their shows but Letterman insisted on lots of reruns and you could tell he was taping two shows in one night.... the second show is always lacking in energy and seems tired. I lost lots of respect for Letterman over a 50 year old man cheating on his wife/girlfriend/mother of his son with 20 year old interns. I though Jay and Conan both showed class by not pillorying Letterman even though the opportunity was ripe for comedy comment. Much more class than Letterman shows by making crude, unfunny comments and impersonations of Jay. Total lack of class, Dave!

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is that Leno has 175 people on his staff, O'Brien has close to 200, and at least some of them are writers, so why are the comedy segments so amateurish? Why are the Comedy Central shows so much better?

micheal said...

I knew the man.
He is so gentle.