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NBC's endorsement of Conan O'Brien leaves plenty of wiggle room

NBC executives spent most of the day in lockdown figuring how to spin their plans to get Jay Leno out of prime time and back to late night.

OBRIEN Feeling pressure from affiliates, who have been griping for months about how Leno's 10 p.m performance is hurting their late news and bottom line, NBC is scrambling to put together a strategy to appease them and keep Leno on the payroll.

The odd man out in all this may be Conan O'Brien. NBC wants O'Brien to stay, but his show would move to 12:05 and he'd be following Leno again. The only difference would be that Leno's show would be only 30 minutes while O'Brien would keep his hour and probably the title of "Tonight Show" host. (For complete coverage of NBC's Leno-O'Brien flip-flop see our story here.)

In a statement, NBC said, "We remain committed to keeping Conan O’Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night line-up, as he has been for more than 16 years, and is one of the most respected entertainers on television."

What NBC didn't say was it wanted to keep O'Brien in his current time slot.

People close to the situation expect all the details to be hammered out over the next few days. NBC executives are scheduled to meet with reporters on Sunday at the semiannual Television Critics Tour, and if they don't have an announcement then, they most certainly will when they meet with their affiliates in New York in three weeks.

O'Brien's best move may be to sit tight. Fox was interested in him years ago but a senior executive there indicated that may not be the case anymore. ABC is getting by with "Nightline" and Jimmy Kimmel and may not want to spend the bucks necessary to land O'Brien. Plus, Leno can't go on forever can he?

If all goes as planned, Leno could be back in late night as early as March. The network will have to rustle up some programming for the 10 p.m. hour. Look for lots of episodes of "Dateline" and "Law & Order."

If only NBC had this much drama in front of the cameras, its ratings might be higher.

Meanwhile, lots of Conan fans are complaining on Twitter about O'Brien possibly losing his 11:30 time slot and blaming Comcast, the cable giant that is in the process of taking control of NBC Universal. Sorry folks, you can't blame the cable company for this mess.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Frederick Brown / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (106)

If Leno can't float in the pool, what makes NBC think he'll swim in the ocean?

Whenever I see Conan on TV I get a strong feeling of embarrassment on his behalf because he is simply not funny to anyone over 15. His humour is simple schoolboy humour and is witless. He is such an intellectual featherweight he irritates me. I cannot, for the life of me, see how any adult can find him funny, still less give him a TV show and pay him for it. When I think of Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, each of whom had a brain and had wit, it is so sad to see such a sad, sad substitute as is O’Brien. Why not put him on an early, early program for kids who wake up too early?

I did not realize that idiot Conan had been on this long. No wonder I've not watched NBC late night for sooo long. He's a cretinous moron who seems to find himself a humorous and erudite "comedian". FAR from it. He's like the original cretin, David Letterman from the early 80's w/ squashed watermelons. Absolutely NO CLASS. Leno is better, but not by much. NOBODY can follow Johnny Carson, Jack Parr or his predecessor (forgot the name), all hilarious and ORIGINAL- w/out absolutely inane mindless gimmicks aimed at an equally mindless cretinous audience. Get him OFF the air. Then I might watch NBC again.

NBC as a group are moronic. Conan. What a LOSER!

Hey John C. Pavlovski take it as a sign that you are getting old. His humor is targeted for the 20-30 year olds.

Conan is a smart, savvy player - but most of all a great entertainer. His humor and sketches are original, sharp and very funny - unlike the old man whose tired monologues and un-original funnies are enjoyed by fewer and fewer viewers.

John, I beg to differ. Conans humor is superior to all on television right now. He applies to a younger and more shrude generation. Where as Jay Leno merely placates an older generation with insipid drivel.

Who cares about Jack Parr or Johnny Carson anymore, humor changes, Conan is actually pretty funny, and is genuine, you guys should just go rent the Friar club roasts with Dean Martin and leave tv for the times!

Conan should refuse that offer, try to go to Fox and back in NYC. NBC has always placated Leno at the expense of others. First it was Letterman, now its Conan. While some might not like Conan, with the ratings FOX gets---Conan would do quite well going on at 11:00.

Putting a late night show in that time slot was moronic in the first place!!!! Now I don't care....put something else on in place of both shows ...Re-runs of shows like Monk and House!!!!

Conan is one of the best and brightest of today's great minds, I'm thrilled and so grateful I have the maturity to let go and let immaturity in once in awhile. You'd kind of need a sense of humour and an ability to get over yourself to like the show though it's true.

Thank goodness...get Leno back into late night where he belongs, and get network programming back into the 10:00 o'clock spot...but PLEASE, NO MORE "REALITY" drivel!

Cracks me up when old people come on and write about how someone or something is not funny. What losers. Referencing Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, and Johnny Carson?? Yea, your sense of humor is the only thing that matters, right? Let me guess, you guys are also religious freaks who can't understand when other people have different beliefs. Go figure why you can't understand the humor in someone different like Conan. Just what the internet needs ... more self righteous morons to lend their closed minded comments.

And yea, I've seen old episodes of Johnny Carson ... the jokes may have been funny then but are cheesy as hell now. Face it, most old people who can't get with the times have a cheeseball sense of humor. My grandparents always think they're hilarious but the kids and grand kids just think they're senile.

You fools who are saying Conan is witless are completely ignorant and should take a long look in the mirror. Conan graduated from Harvard magnum cum laude....where did you clowns go to school?

Conan is witless, what does that say about your intelligence level? That of a snail?

@Neil - Conan is an idiot? I'm sure that his Harvard classmates disagree. I think NBC is incredibly short-sighted on this one and will be left with no one to fill the void when he decided to retire. Jimmy Fallon? Carson Daly? Looking into my crystal ball they're going to pull Tina Fey into the mix to save the day.

Uh, oh... am I the only one that likes Conan O'brien here? Hmmmm... it must be because I'm under 50 years old.


Conan is great... He's warm, good-natured, self-deprecating, clever. A writer for the Simpsons and Saturday Night Live... and who could forget stuff like Pale Force? The show isn't always super-hilarious, but a loser and a cretinous moron he is not. It's pretty weird to feel so intensely about it, but if you think Leno is better, maybe being weird is just in your nature.

It's sad to see some people get their rocks of talking trash about late night tv show hosts. Get a life.

I hope Conan gets a fair shake. I really enjoy his show.

Both Conan and Leno are talented performers. Since Conan appeals to a sillier and younger crowd, he should take the tonight show to a later spot. I appreciate and get Leno's humor. But I do not stay up late to watch any show. I stayed up and watch most of Jay's show in the late spot after the news. I do not watch it now because I can see great original shows on TNT(The Closers, Hawthorne, Leverage, Dark Blue) and other cable channels shows that are really good dramas and comedies at that time slot. When NBC opted to put Jay on an earlier time it acted as a man wanting to keep his mistress and his wife(Jay) with no regard for both. Now it needs to scramble because neither fit their new roles. This was a move to save money with no consideration for
Jay, Conan, the affiliates or their audience.

I want to see Jay behind his desk again cracking jokes and interacting with his guests, band, and audience. I don't want him interviewing goofy kids on the streets as he has been doing. He is a great host and comedian. He deserves better from NBC. Let Conan keep The Tonight Show title but give Jay his desk and time slot again and I will tune in again.

All comes down to the fact there aren't enough people from GenX running things...the Boomers are still clinging to power and those Boomers who retired have been replaced by GenY and Millenial personnel who are easily bulldozed by the remaining Boomers. Meanwhile, the generation in its prime right now is not being entertained and has tuned out.

Short answer: It's because they have their generational marketing messed up.

Long answer: Leno appeals to Baby Boomers...pick an appropriate time-zone for when they're watching. Conan appeals to dorm room kids --you'd think he would be appealing to GenX and GenY but it's just not the case, at least since dorm room days. Carson Daily appeals to overweight party girls coming home from the bar. Jimmy Fallon is very cool and appeals to the huge Millenial generation and even to their parents, the GenX, but you can't ask that young kid to be putting on a show for people in their 40s and 50s and his generation (the Millenials) naturally hate GenY (and GenY naturally hates GenX, but not vice versa --lol). NBC is tanking because it doesn't have its generational marketing in order.

In other words, who is it that is supposed to be appealing to GenX (38-52) and GenY (28-40)? They tried Dennis Miller many years ago --loved seeing GenX elite like Johnny Rotten give him the finger when they were done performing because he's just a self-absorbed tool. There is Arseneo Hall (woof! woof! woof!) who is a great answer but he's ancient history. If they're smart they'll swap Leno and Conan and retrain him to be cool.

..like CBS Craig Ferguson who is a great GenX/Y personality, but comes on too freaking late at night for people in that age group to stay up and watch.

..by the same token, they don't want to do what the people running ABC late night did: they wisely host GenX/Y things like Depeche Mode concerts but put them on way too late and went with a personality to host the show that most find a bit pathetic (overweight, talks about his religion, jokes on near-illegal mexicans who weren't really part of the GenX/Y scene), so half the time people only tune in for the expensive music acts later on YouTube after they've aired live.

OK, let me get this straight...their going to let Jay Leno have a 30 minute program?? My gosh, the applause lasts THAT long. This is just ridiculous. Just put it back the way it was, pay Conan to move back where he came from and be done with it. Keep it simple and keep it the way that WORKED in the past. Quit trying to fix something that isn't broken. If Jay Leno threatens to quit again, just cut his check and show him the door. There's not anyone that's worth eating Twinkies and drinking coffee in an all day marathon meeting trying to figure out whose going to be the one to rake in the most bucks. You're going to lose your wazoo on this 30-minute decision NBC. That's all there is to it.

NBC is missing the big picture: viewers don't like being scheduled. We now have TiVo, YouTube, Hulu etc. Get Real! This whole story is ridiculous. Who cares what time these are shown? I want to know when they get posted to Hulu. I imagine that won't change regardless of the outcome of whether Jay is at 11:30 and Conan at 12:05 or whatever nonsense you just published.

Alright, another merger. That's just what we need. Yeah, there was just too many entertainment outlets. I want my news and entertainment decided by one CEO.

This is quite sad... Leno has never been and will never be spontaneously funny - without a script in front of him, he's even more boring than Carson Daily. I was so glad to finally have Conan on at a reasonable time, and now these dummies want to mess with it again.. ughh... just sad.

Conan is ridiculous, and certainly, not funny, never has been. I'm a Leno fan, but since he's been in the prime-time slot, I've become a fan of Dave Letterman. I guess there will never be another Johnny Carson or Jack Paar.

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