Monday, January 18, 2010

Jay Leno tells his side of the story

According to a transcript released by NBC, Jay Leno is going to spill his side of the late night "wars" on his show tonight.

He starts at the beginning, when "an NBC executive" came into his office to tell him he would be kicked off his show in five years' time: "Conan O’Brien has gotten offers from other networks. We don’t want him to go, so we’re going to give him ‘The Tonight Show.’" Leno protests, citing his high ratings, but is informed the decision is final.

2009 comes around, and "I’m leaving before my contract is out. About six to eight months early. So before I could go anywhere else, I would be at least a year or 18 months before I could go and do a show somewhere else. I said to NBC, ‘would you release me from my contract.’ They said, ‘we want to keep you here.’ Okay. What are your ideas? They said, ‘how about primetime?’ I said, ‘that will never work.’"

Very prescient, Jay. However, NBC says the 10 PM show is a great idea -- "We have done focus groups" -- so Leno, ever the company man, agrees, especially since he's assured that he can keep his "Tonight Show" staff. After "The Jay Leno Show" bombs, the NBC suits come back to offer him the 11:35 PM, half-hour time slot. "'You think Conan will go for that?' 'Yes, yes,'" they assure him.

"Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that. They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, ‘yeah, I’ll take the show back. If that’s what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.’ So that’s pretty much where we are." (In other words, "I'm not doing it for me! I'm doing it for 'Leno Show' co-producer Tracie Fiss and technical director Michael Stramisky!")

Considering that Jay is taking a shellacking in the press, and especially on the internet, where disgruntled Conan fans are organizing rallies and creating artwork, it seems like Jay had no choice but to address the issue. However, it remains to be seen if people will buy his explanation. The fact that he is partially blaming O'Brien ("Conan is not doing well at 11:30") for the situation may be tough to swallow, since Leno famously struggled in the ratings for almost two years before overtaking Letterman, and the affiliates' wrath was aimed at the lead-in to the late local news, not the program that followed it. Despite his multimillions, Conan almost seems to be getting a reputation as the embodiment of the working stiff who's been wronged by his bosses, something that feels very zeitgeisty in this era of layoffs and anger at the corporate bigwigs who made bad decisions and made us pay the price.

Detroit Free Press columnist Julie Hinds is not alone when she declares Leno a "loser" in this battle, stating that he "now has the dubious distinction of being seen as a two-time spoiler -- first for beating out Letterman for the 'Tonight' seat in 1992 and now for pushing out O'Brien." It remains to be seen whether or not Leno can return to his 11:35 ratings supremacy, but one thing's for certain -- Leno will at least be out there, night after night, starting immediately after the Olympics, while even if FOX comes calling the moment the ink is dry on Conan's settlement, he won't be back on the air until fall at the earliest. And since it's been widely reported that O'Brien will have to agree to a gag order in order to get a payout from NBC, it seems clear that Team Coco will have to wait a long time before they hear anything new from their man.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Guess NBC will have to update their slogan: "more colorful (except less ginger)." ~

  2. Anonymous said...

    Just keep blaming everyone --you fuckin moron.
    Imagine what conan and his staff might be going through-- you wait for 5 years for this gig and they kick u out in 6 months??
    If he (Leno) really didnot want to move to 10pm--he could have said NO 5 years ago and we won't have this mess.

  3. Steve K. said...

    "I go, ‘yeah, I’ll take the show back."
    That dude seems more and more unpleasant.

  4. Anonymous said...

    I wonder: Can't Leno offer NBC to take a time slot after the one The Tonight Show airs in? I'm guessing he actually wants to host The Tonight Show again.

  5. samantha said...

    I didn't see Leno last night, because I was watching Jeff Zucker on Charlie Rose. I watched the Leno clip just now online and Leno mimicks Zucker's talking points for the most part, especially the shifting of blame to Conan in the same oblique way Leno did it. So, I think NBC's PR people have been coaching the spin. What Leno adds to Zucker's account, however, is that NBC didn't give him a choice back in 2004 and NBC refused to let him out of his contract now. I have some sympathy for him on the point. I think, though, that he probably had the choice of refusing the half-hour show - his excuse for why he agreed is rather weak. Had he done so, I'm sure NBC wouldn't have pulled Conan from The Tonight Show. In the end, Leno comes off as disingenous, I think.

  6. Keonyn said...

    Just sounds like a bunch of damage control, trying to take the fire off their chosen personality so ratings will not be effected. I'm done with NBC at this point, what a joke of a network. Conan was about all they had left worth watching, they cancel everything else.

    I'd rather someone like ABC take Conan, not FOX, but I'll watch regardless of where he goes, so long as it doesn't cut in to Craig. I like Conan, but Craig is easily my favorite of the late night hosts.