Monday, January 25, 2010

Jay Leno: Will he be #1 again?

On March 1, Jay Leno will return to "Tonight." By then, all of the excitement generated by the latest battles in the late night wars will have faded, and America will presumably be talking about its new Olympic heroes, not whether or not Conan got screwed by NBC. But will Leno be able to resume his spot as the #1 host in late night?

Ken Tucker of says yes. "[I]f you think the vast majority of Americans who have long watched The Tonight Show truly believes Jay is 'tarnished' or 'the bad guy,' as so many pundits have written, you’re deluded," writes Tucker. "Middle America still loves Jay, and the backlash to the backlash will be that Leno emerges just the way he’s been positioning himself: As the loyal underdog who’s now coming to rescue NBC’s late-night ratings." And, of course, Leno will be fired up by his desire to beat longtime rival David Letterman: "Think Dave as Batman [brooding, wily, powerful] and Jay as The Joker [giggly, wily, powerful]."

Tucker adds that the celebs who pledged their loyalty to Coco during his final week on NBC will not be boycotting Jay's "Tonight" once they have product to push. "[I]f you think Robin Williams or Tom Hanks or any other final-week Conan supporter is going to turn down Jay, you’re crazy."

Team Conan loyalists may at least get some solace from the "Jay Bombs" web site, which strips the audience laughter from Leno's monologue jokes -- sort of the talk show equivalent of "Garfield Minus Garfield."

Anyone interested in the changing late night landscape should check out this Los Angeles Times article about the shrinking profit margins of the time slot, once a cash cow for the networks. An ad on the relaunched "Tonight Show" will only cost advertisers $35,000, as opposed to the $50K NBC could charge a few years ago. Among the reasons? The audience is fragmenting, watching programs like "Adult Swim" and "The Daily Show"/"Colbert Report" instead of sticking with network fare; many people are choosing to watch clips online the next day; and the popularity of DVRs mean viewers can play back prime time dramas in the wee hours of the morning instead of choosing between Ferguson and Fallon.

Late night shows are expensive -- the hosts pull down huge sums (more than $30 million annually for Letterman and Leno, $8-10 million for Kimmel), music rights can cost thousands of dollars per episode, and the programs have large staffs. Considering that the late night pie is being carved into smaller and smaller pieces, it seems likely that wherever Conan ends up, he'll be paid less, and have fewer resources at his disposal than he did at NBC.


  1. Keonyn said...

    Well, back before Conan took over, I actually did watch Leno from 10:30 to 11:30, and then switched over to Ferguson. I was never a big Leno fan, but he was okay enough to get my viewership for that slot. After this debacle though, I've lost all faith in NBC, and any love I had for Leno.

    I will not be watching Leno again, and I've pretty much stopped watching NBC altogether. I was already a bit irritated with NBC's love of cancelling shows and ruining those they don't, but this mess was the last straw.

    I'll go to watching syndicated reruns of Family Guy and Scrubs until Ferguson comes on. Hopefully Conan will get a spot this fall at 10 or 10:30 CST this fall, and I'll go back to watching him.