TV – Note To Jeff Zucker: No Matter What, It’s Ending In Fire

I haven’t blogged about the Conan/Leno wars for a pretty simple reason. I’m not emotionally invested in them. I happen to think Conan’s damn funny, and that Leno’s mediocre, but that’s about where it ends. But apparently a lot of America really cares a lot.

First, some background. NBC is currently fourth among broadcasters, and like all of the broadcast networks, is trying to figure out how to become profitable in an industry where even the name of the industry, “television”, is rapidly becoming an anachronism. The innovation NBC head Jeff Zucker came up with, since Jay Leno was enormously popular at the time, was to move Leno from 11:30 to 10pm, and cancel/move a bunch of shows. This would save Zucker a load of money and everybody loves Leno, right?

Well, as you might have guessed, that’s not the way things worked out. Turns out Leno wasn’t that popular, and it was ruining the ratings for local affiliates’ newscasts at 11, which is about the only thing keeping some of them afloat. But there is, of course, a problem. Jay Leno has an $80 million contract, Conan O’Brien has a $60 million contract, and they’re both pretty unbreakable. O’Brien’s contract doesn’t guarantee a timeslot, but Jay Leno’s does.

If I had to offer a guess, it’s this: Leno has no reason to play nice with NBC at this point. If he takes the Tonight Show back, it’s going to be a public relations disaster, and he knows that. Publicly it’ll look like he’s fucking over Conan O’Brien. He’s already taken a massive beating over this, which is really isn’t even his fault (come on, if someone offered you eight figures, you wouldn’t turn it down).

So, yeah, Leno can literally tell NBC: “Give me $80 million and my walking papers, or give me a 10pm show five nights a week.” And I suspect he’s going to do exactly that.

Or he could take back the “Tonight Show”, but do so under specific terms: namely, that Conan is released from his contract. Leno might even demand that Conan be paid the $60 million he’s owed just to clear the air. That’s about the only way at this point the return of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” ISN’T going to end in pain for NBC and Leno.

As for Conan…after this, the world is his oyster. Yeah, it’s a shame he’s losing the one thing he always wanted because Jeff Zucker’s a prick, but who isn’t going to want him after this? The entire controversy has driven his ratings up, raised his public profile to extreme heights, and basically been the promotional opportunity NBC seems to actively want to avoid giving him.

No, the only loser here is Zucker. Here’s what he’s done already:

– Pissed off the affiliates.

– Pissed off not just Leno and O’Brien, but Fallon and Carson Daly as well. Nobody’s checked their contracts to see if they’ve got a guaranteed time slot, and if they do have one, Zucker had better have ulcer medication handy.

– Piss off a bunch of producers by cancelling their shows and basically telling them they were fired for costing too much.

– Done some serious damage to one of his network’s longest running brands, not to mention the not-precisely-sterling reputation of NBC.

Here’s what’s going to happen AFTER this mess is resolved:

– Lose at least one major draw (either Leno leaves or Conan leaves). Worst case scenario, he loses them both.

– Lose eight figures worth of cash.

– Figure out how to fill a 10-11pm timeslot with no shows in production, which means he has to go crawling back to those producers he pissed off. Dick Wolf is going to have a rich, rich year.

– Figure out how to smooth over relations with Fallon and Daly.

Oh, yeah, and did I mention, NBC is fourth? And that one of the quickest and most effective ways for NBC to improve its reputation is to throw Zucker to the wolves?

So long, hombre. And pray you don’t meet Conan in a dark alley.

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One Response to “TV – Note To Jeff Zucker: No Matter What, It’s Ending In Fire”

  1. Brentin Says:

    He’s also pissed off future NBC owner Comcast, who will certainly be giving him the axe if he doesn’t get it from NBC sooner.
    Also:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34866007/ns/entertainment/

    Looks like we’ll be getting plenty of L&O shows.

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