Thursday, January 14, 2010

Obligatory Conan/Tonight Show Post

I don't have a dog in this fight--I've never seriously watched late-night TV and I don't find any of the characters who populate it particularly funny. The entire enterprise seems like more of an infomercial for the celebrity-industrial complex than actual entertainment.

That said, I'm a little surprised by roundly-recorded shock and objection to the way Conan O'Brien is being treated. This isn't to say that he isn't being treated shabbily--he is. But how did everyone think this movie was going to end? Conan wanted to replace Jay Leno, who was doing the #1 rated show in his slot and who wasn't ready to be replaced. Jeff Zucker and NBCU worked out a plan that would move Conan into that slot and keep Leno from moving to another network by putting his show into primetime five nights a week.

This was, at the time, an incredibly risky move. And so, if you're Conan and it's 2008 and you see that Leno has a clause in his contract where he gets paid $80M if his show fails and NBC decides to cancel it, and you only get $60M if you get canned, you'd have to be blind not to realize that there are only two likely outcomes. (1) Leno's show succeeds and everyone lives happily ever after. (2) Leno's show fails, he moves back to 11:30 and you're the odd-man out. That's the price you pay for moving in on Leno before he's ready to walk.

From the moment NBC announced that Leno's prime-time experiment was over it was pretty obvious that the endgame here involved getting Conan out. Every move NBC has made seems designed to simply reduce the payout they'll be sending his way. They've created a scenario which he's unlikely to accept (a 12:05 start-time), but in such a manner as to force him to be the one to breach his contract. Conan's own statement seems designed to lay the predicate for alleging that NBC is the one breaching their contract--he's alleging that The Tonight Show after midnight is not The Tonight Show. This is a legal, not a semantic, argument.

The only real questions are: (1) How much will NBC pay Conan? (2) How long will Conan be required to stay off the air?

1 comment:

Dave S. said...

Legally, Conan is on shakier ground than Leno, but in terms of public opinion the reverse is true. That being said, I have never seen a paycheck signed by Public Opinion.