Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien are in the worst PR mess of all time.
It almost doesn’t matter how they got here ‘ that’s another story ‘ but here’s how they can get out of it.
On Sunday, NBC cancelled the “Jay Leno Show,” which no one watched anyway. They’ve invited Jay back to 11:35 p.m.. That’s the “Tonight” show, no matter what they call it. Since Steven Allen started it in 1954, the “Tonight” show was broadcast at that hour after the local news. So Jay is back in charge, which only leaves one problem: Conan.
O’Brien signed on for the “Tonight” show. Under the new plan, he would essentially be doing his old show, only a half-hour earlier. He might ask, like us, what’s the point in that? In order to do the “Tonight” show, Conan and his staff had to leave New York after many years. Families were uprooted, there was a lot of upheaval.
The truth is, Conan was better suited to New York. He’s edgy and quirky. He’s smart. He has East Coast written all over him. In L.A., he’s a fish out of water. He’d be better off coming back, and restarting whatever he does from New York.
Interestingly, much of what’s happening is coming out of New York. This is where Jeff Zucker is, and this is where Lorne Michaels is. NBC has always been bipolar. The News Department, the Today show, and Saturday Night Live are on the East coast. Prime time television is on the West. Rarely did the twain meet. But Michaels also has “30 Rock” under his aegis, which has only increased his power on the West Coast. If anyone’s in a position to broker a peace and calm every one down, it’s him. He’s also got Jimmy Fallon to worry about. (Fallon joked last week that soon he’d be doing his show opposite infomercials.)
In the end, Conan may have no choice but to stay and do his best work at midnight. ABC doesn’t need him now, with “Nightline” flourishing again. Fox is a dicey choice; they’ve never had success in talk shows, from Joan Rivers to Chevy Chase to “The Wilton North Report.” They run local news at 10pm on most stations, followed by a half hour of syndicated reruns on local stations. By 11:30, their earlier, stronger audience from 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. has drifted off.
The real winners here are television production companies, and the dozens of actors who have been unemployed this season because NBC had no dramas at 10 p.m. All the hospital, doctor, and lawyer shows, cop shows, and nighttime soaps will now flood the banks of 10 p.m. There’s talk of yet another “Law & Order” ‘ “Law & Order: Altoona” is still to come ‘ set in Los Angeles.