If you’re with Coco, you’re going somewhere else.
NBC finally announced this morning it has reached an agreement with Conan O’Brien to leave The Tonight Show as of Friday, when long-time O’Brien friends Tom Hanks and Will Ferrell will be the guests on the show.
Blame Conan, blame Leno, blame whoever you want, but this is 100 percent NBC’s fault. It made mistake after mistake, completely underestimating three big factors:
–Conan’s fans. When NBC made the announcement at the beginning of the month that Jay Leno would be heading back to his 11:35 spot and The Tonight Show with Conan would move to 12:05, the thought had to be that Conan would be a good soldier and do it without complaint. After a few months, Conan would realize how much he hated it and would bail on his zillion-dollar contract at any cost.
That was the thought.
But as it did in the first place by yanking O’Brien after just seven months, NBC vastly underestimated the passionate fans of O’Brien and their dedication to him. He has a following Jay Leno will never have, a cult-ish group of 20-ish and 30-ish fans who grew up with O’Brien in college in the 90s (admittedly, like me) who appreciate his willingness to make with the laughity-laughs on material he believes only he and his staff think is funny. They never realized anyone else thought a masturbating bear would be funny or that moving lips on a video still of Bill Clinton yelling “Hooooooo-eeeyyyy!” would be funny to anyone but them.
Then it was.
Even at his height, Leno never had fans the way Conan had fans. Leno had people who liked and appreciated him, but never loved him. He’s the late-night equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay movie. He keeps the action moving, rarely relies on anything groundbreaking and thinks whatever a focus group says is funny is actually funny. And that’s fine. It’s a time-honored tradition that’s kept him in a job and made him so valuable to NBC’s schedule this year, his ability to give a mass audience exactly what they want. Or at least what they think they want. Conan is the Quentin Tarantino movie. He’s brash, innovative, and if you can get by the stuff that may not necessarily appeal to you, you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before.
–Conan’s soldier mentality. NBC completely created Conan. It took a monumental and possibly stupid chance giving a guy with virtually no on-air experience save for the Five-Timers’ skecth of SNL a chance to host a late-night talk show. It believed in him almost unconditionally, letting him tank in the ratings for years — even losing to crusty Tom Snyder, who was so old at the time it looked like he was just waiting to have a heart attack – before word started to spread about the funny guy on TV in the middle of the night. NBC then took an even bigger chance and blew up its successful Tonight Show model and let him take over.
There was no reason for NBC to think anything other than, “This guy owes us, he’ll do what we say.” Most people probably would have and you can certainly make the argument that Conan should have. He still would have gotten his money and he could have done the show he wanted to without Dick Ebersol getting in his face. But Conan felt completely stabbed in the back — rightfully so — and NBC should have realized that’s how he would have felt. For the past eight months since NBC made the Leno-at-10 announcement, Conan probably has had friends and advisers telling him, “They’re going to screw you, they’re just going to get rid of you and put Jay back at 11:35, you’re the back-up plan.” For EIGHT MONTHS people have told him that. How would you feel if you walked into a job, only to have the guy you replaced — who was supposed to be grazing in the classic car pasture — was still hovering over your head, and people were telling you that at any time, you can be fired and the old guy will slip right back into your job? And that went on for eight months? Wouldn’t that make you a little angry?
–The backlash: It sure made Conan angry. When you get angry about something like that, you put it on your Facebook page and you get fired. When Conan gets angry, he could fight back behind the security of a guaranteed contract to just LAMBASTE his bosses and they couldn’t say a word because that’s what he was hired to do — make great comedy at every one’s expense, even the network.
NBC couldn’t possibly have seen what was coming from what it hoped would be its good soldier, and it wasn’t ready for the fallout. No less than 10 jokes a night were directed at the incompetence of NBC, and because he kicked it off, the other late-night shows felt like they had to follow suit. Even the ultimate good soldier Leno jumped into the act because his clean, wholesome audience wanted some kind of retaliation. NBC already was the butt of jokes for its lame primetime schedule this year — the result of the abysmal Leno at 10 p.m. joke — and now it was dealing with an all-out late-night assault from all angles. The “embarrass Conan into leaving” plan officially ended and the revamped “pay whatever he wants, just get him off the air” plan went into effect.
And so it went. Now we’re here, with Conan leaving NBC, his 200-strong staff getting $7 million to split (an average of $35,000 per employee) and Leno going back to 11:35 for the foreseeable future.
I boycotted NBC after the 1999 TV season because it canceled Newsradio and Homicide: Life on the Street at the same time and Seinfeld aired its last episode. It took me about seven years to go back, when a show based in my hometown hit the network. Save for sporting events, I hadn’t watched a thing on NBC before The Office. I thought the network was run by monkeys back then, and apparently, those monkeys have graduated to baboon status. The entire network needs one great, big, giant enema that wipes out anyone who contributed even a sliver of advice into the Leno at 10 nightmare and start all over again.
And yes, I’d like to be considered for a future position at the network. during the interview, no matter what question they ask, my answer will be, “I would never put a talk show on at 10 p.m. Ever.”
Figure that has to at least put me in the running, right?