Outsourcing The Conan Commentary - Macleans.ca

Outsourcing The Conan Commentary


Conan O’Brien’s “go to hell, NBC” statement is really brilliantly crafted; it calls attention to every horrible and stupid thing the network has done while not sounding whiny. He references the fact that the network gave Leno the chance it never gave him (since they stuck with Leno through his shaky start on The Tonight Show), the behind-the-scenes chaos of the network, and the fact that his ratings troubles are due in part to Leno’s failure at 10 o’clock — but all obliquely, so he can’t be accused of attacking Leno directly (even though Leno deserves it). Even his statement that he doesn’t want to displace Jimmy Fallon by moving to 12:05 is a sort of dig at Jay Leno, who has been perfectly willing to take away Conan’s time slot; but again, it’s not a direct attack on Leno, just a subtle implied comparison. It really does seem like he wrote most of it himself, and it reminds you that he is first and foremost a good comedy writer.

James Poniewozik “translates” some of the choicer comments.

What I thought was most obvious about the network’s offer to O’Brien was that there was no scenario under which he would get to keep The Tonight Show for very long. Putting Leno at 11:35 was the most blatant stalking-horse for giving the whole show back to him; even if they gave him a half-hour and called it something else, they could eventually give him another half-hour just like before. But they had a contract with O’Brien and couldn’t just cut him loose. So they told him to move over, but that according to the terms of the contract he would still be hosting something called The Tonight Show. O’Brien had to know that he would never be allowed to keep even that fig-leaf; once NBC told him (reportedly) that they would choose Leno if they had to choose between the two of them, his fate was sealed. The only question was whether he would end it now or allow NBC to end it later. The network gets what it wants: Leno back at 11:35, and Conan can’t sue them. Proving that NBC may not know much about programming but it’s still pretty good at the ancient art of employee destruction.

Also, this probably goes without saying, but once Leno has the hour back, he’ll probably get good ratings (a combination of being more popular than Conan and having a less terrible 10 o’clock lead-in), and the whole thing will have worked out well for the network. I’d like to think it might be different, that he’ll be damaged goods, but in all likelihood it won’t.

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Outsourcing The Conan Commentary

  1. Classy of him to end his statement with a self-deprecating joke:

    "… for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way."

  2. "Conan can't sue them"

    I'm not so sure about that. I've read that there is no timeslot provision in his contract, but surely there is a legal argument to be made that it's no longer The Tonight Show. I would image, for example, if NBC changed it to a daytime cooking show called The Tonight Show, that Conan could very easily sue them in any court. Now it's just a case of how much leeway the legal system would give NBC in changing the show. Anyways, I also read that neither side is really interested in going to court, so I'd expect Conan to get a small payoff, maybe a one year waiting period, and then he'll show up on Fox.

  3. good for you Conan

  4. Good for Conan!

    NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

    Gee, I wonder what NBC's "terrible difficulties in prime-time" refers to?!?! LOL

    It's good that Conan got that in there. It's an acknowledgment that "Hey, look, Jay Leno's going to get better ratings than me when he comes back to the Tonight Show, but always remember, he built up an audience over years after getting CLOBBERED by Letterman in the beginning, and Leno's never been handicapped by the terrible prime time lead in that is 'The Jay Leno Show'", and it needed to be said.

  5. Poniewozik's parcings are great too!

    "It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule".

    Translation: Leno got beat by David Letterman for two years, and he had E.R. to save his tuchas! What did I have? Jay freaking Leno

  6. I prefer Letterman,, but if I had to choose between Conan and Leno, I'd choose Conan any day – and I'm not from the younger generation, many of whom no doubt also prefer Conan.

    This may help ratings in the short term, but this is a dumb move for the longer term for NBC.

  7. This ordeal bothers me to know end and Jamie, I really enjoyed your analysis.

    I'd love to see a lot of self-respecting comics boycott Jay at 11:35 but that'll never happen.

    This sucks.

  8. Wuh, Leno deserves it.
    Great one!