Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Chronicles of Zucker: The Coco, The Chin, and the Closet

I was trying to think of some kind of complicated metaphor for the Conan O'Brien scandal, something involving the story of King Solomon and the baby custody case, but I don't think anyone needs that at this point.  Most of us know and understand the situation well enough.  So I'm just gonna rant a little.

Am I angry at Jay Leno?  Sort of.  I don't know how angry I can be, because I don't know the complete truth of the situation.  If Jay Leno is a behind-the-scenes mastermind who pushed Conan off the air, I'm very angry at him.  If he is exactly who he says he is, I'm still a bit angry at him.  So he doesn't come out of this looking very good either way.

Conan O'Brien made a tough decision: he left the Tonight Show when NBC threatened to move it past midnight, because he respects the legacy of the brand.  He refused to go along with NBC's plan.  One has to wonder what would've happened if Jay Leno refused as well.  I would love it if NBC rewarded Conan's humility by thinking up another plan that would let him keep the Tonight Show at 11:35, but I understand that they're a business and they're going to do whatever is most profitable at the moment.  But what that says to me is that Jay should've done the same thing, instead of just going along with NBC's idea, as if he doesn't understand their motivations or Conan's motivations.  We all know NBC was desperate to keep him around.  What were they gonna do, fire him?  Then they'd presumably have gotten Conan to stay on board.  Of course, Leno apparently would've had a bigger payout... but that's NBC's problem, not his.

I guess what it comes down to is, nobody expects a big corporation like NBC to do what's best for the art.  It's the unspoken duty of their hired artists to butt heads with management and say, "No, you can't do this, it makes short-term business sense but it's infringing upon the art, here's why" and reach a compromise that's still profitable without killing too much of the art.  But I guess Jay Leno just isn't what most of us would call an artist.

But then again, enough about Jay Leno.  He's not the ultimate villain here.  He may be a villain, but the real villain is Jeff Zucker and any other NBC execs who were with him on this.  See, this whole situation came about because of a lack of trust.  A few years ago, Zucker was afraid that Conan wasn't going to stick around when his Late Night contract expired, because other networks were making him offers.  So he promised him the Tonight Show in 2009.  We all thought Jay Leno was okay with this, but apparently he didn't really want to retire.

Now, right here we can already see the massive lack of foresight on Zucker's part.  He was afraid that Conan would go to another network and create competition... so he released Jay Leno before he was done with television.  And then, unsurprisingly, he became afraid that Jay Leno would go to another network and create competition.  So that's when he came up with the plan to give Jay Leno a new show on NBC at 10 PM; a decision that was unanimously mocked when it was first announced, then mocked again, and again.  And it turned out exactly as badly as everybody predicted.  His ratings plummeted, dragging down the ratings of the local news and the Tonight Show as well.  Affiliates threatened to revolt, and the rest is history.

I'm stopping the story there because it's the crucial juncture of the problem.  Because NBC had no faith that Conan would stick around, they created a Leno vs. Conan situation where there never should've been one.  They were both talk show hosts on the same network.  It doesn't make sense that they were competing with each other.  It doesn't make sense that Jay Leno was waiting in the wings to take back the Tonight Show.

It doesn't make sense that Jay Leno's successor is Jay Leno.


Anonymous said...

quite interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter.

Sir Lemming said...

I suppose I should link my Twitter profile on the sidebar and not just in that one blog post where I mentioned it. I really almost never update it, though. I'm a follower and a Facebooker, but not so much of a Tweeter. I don't even have a profile picture yet.