NBC Debacle Causes Late Night to Lose Big

Matt DiGiovanni

Recently NBC has had its hands full with the debacle between Jay Leno, of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Jay Leno Show, and Conan O’Brien, of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and  The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. The root of this situation can be traced to 2009, when Conan O’Brien replaced Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show and Leno received his own prime time talk show, The Jay Leno Show. Flash forward to January 2010, and due to both shows having lower than desired ratings, NBC and its affiliates wanted change.

Conan's support was centered around "Team Conan," which used the internet, specifically social networking sites, to push posters touting "I'm with Coco" and a headshot of Conan among others.

The new schedule proposed by NBC was to shorten The Jay Leno Show to a half hour and to push it later to 11:35 PM, resulting in The Tonight Show being pushed back to 12:05 AM, and getting an hour time slot. These changes did not violate either host’s contract; however, Conan plainly stated that he would resign if the changes took effect, because The Tonight Show has always been at 11:35 PM and changing that would damage the show.

NBC’s response to Conan’s refusal of the deal was less than amiable. All Headline News reported that NBC had stated their intention to keep Conan off the air for up to three and a half years if he did not accept the agreement. Despite both NBC and Conan agreeing that this claim was false, it is spawned from NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker’s belief that Conan’s contract contained a clause allowing NBC to keep him off the air for an additional year after his contract expired.

It is at this point where the massive outpouring of support for Conan O’Brien came into play, and the polarization of the issue to back either Conan or Leno. Conan’s support was centered around “Team Conan,” which used the internet, specifically social networking sites, to push posters touting “I’m with Coco” and a headshot of Conan among others. Besides the internet support, Conan had physical support in the form of gatherings outside of the studio where his show is taped, where people wore orange and held “I’m with Coco” signs.

Additionally, numerous celebrities such as Jim Gaffigan, Norm Macdonald, and Patton Oswalt have all taken Conan’s side, vocalizing their support. Perhaps even more significant are the fellow late night hosts who support Conan including David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jon Stewart.

Jay Leno did not have the same show of support that Conan had, and it is not because he had no fans, it is because his show appealed to an older audience. Leno’s audience, being older,  is not as active on the internet. In fact, Leno’s show had more regular viewers than Conan’s did; however, due to the younger audience watching Conan, it is more likely that many of his supporters watch clips of his online rather than actually watching the show during its airtime.

The conclusion of this conflict came in the form of a $45 million dollar agreement between  Conan and NBC. Specifically, Conan’s agreement grants him $33 million and his staff $12 million, also stating that he cannot return to television on another network until September 1, 2010. Jay Leno’s agreement with NBC states that he will become the host of The Tonight Show again beginning on March 1. Until March 1, it has been speculated that reruns of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will be shown.