What was NBC thinking when they relieved late-night television personality Conan O’Brien of his duties as host of “The Tonight Show” and released him from the network? NBC claimed they never wanted O’Brien to leave, only to replace him with veteran host Jay Leno and move O’Brien to a later time slot. But the insulted “Tonight Show” host refused the scheduling change – and rightfully so.
O’Brien was cut from his dream job after hosting the popular late night talk show for seven months. Despite ratings down 21 percent in “The Tonight Show’s” key demographic of 18 to 49-year-olds, NBC should not have cut O’Brien so soon. Network officials should understand that it can take at least a year for new hosts to transition between shows and rebuild their fan bases. Furthermore, O’Brien wasn’t the only host with a failing show at the network. “The Jay Leno Show” was also a disappointment, with ratings falling from 18 million viewers on its debut on September 14 last year to only five million nightly viewers in November.
Now NBC is replacing O’Brien with Leno at the expense of releasing O’Brien from the network. This decision is detrimental to NBC for two reasons. First, cutting O’Brien from the NBC family is like disowning a son. NBC shaped O’Brien’s career and provided him the opportunity to become a popular celebrity figure. Cutting him loose contradicts 17 years of invested time and effort.
Second, this decision will only benefit NBC if Leno can successfully boost ratings and restore “The Tonight Show” to its former grandeur. NBC executives seem to have tremendous faith in Leno’s ability to revitalize the show. According toTheWrap.com, an entertainment news website, NBC Universal Television Chairman Jeff Gaspin recently said, “We’re pleased that Jay is returning to host the franchise that he helmed brilliantly and successfully for many years.”
But the expectation that Leno can save the network’s late-night reputation is troubling given the reception of Leno’s most recent show. In the coming months, let’s hope NBC won’t regret making the mid-season scheduling switch. But, only time will tell if American audiences have grown weary of Jay Leno as a late-night personality.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that O’Brien recently signed exit papers ending his contract with NBC in exchange for a whopping $45 million settlement package. $33 million will go to O’Brien personally, while $12 million will be divided among his staff. Now that the deal is official, O’Brien will attempt to get back on the air as soon as September 1 of this year, the date his contract with NBC legally allows him to return to television. Fox has already expressed interest in bringing O’Brien’s comedic talents to their network, but no official negotiations have taken place.
If someone as highly praised as Conan O’Brien can get booted off a major network like NBC, I wonder who will become the next casualty in the ratings war. You never know, maybe your favorite celebrity will be next on the list. Let’s hope not, but call your friends anyway and tell them to turn on their televisions. You can bet NBC executives will be watching those ratings very carefully.