NBC: Never Be Closing (aka the Conan debacle)
I wrote last summer about Conan O’Brien’s big, much-anticipated move to The Tonight Show, closing with this paragraph:
But ratings be damned. Our boy has reached the Promised Land. Am I the only Conan fan who couldn’t help but grin happily, seeing that opening sketch of Show One — with Conan running from New York to Los Angeles — as a sort of victory lap?
Insert title card: SEVEN MONTHS LATER.
Ratings, it would seem, could not be damned. Nor could about a dozen other factors in this late-night morass. The victory lap I mentioned will soon be replaced with Conan walking out the door.
I’ve been watching with much fascination over the past several days as the whole NBC-Leno-Conan-primetime-latenight drama unfolded. The various TV blogs that I read regularly have been invaluable, with, among others, insightful analysis and opinions by Alan Sepinwall, Maureen Ryan, and James Poniewozik.
Then, today, Conan O’Brien released a cordial but pointed statement that said, basically, thanks but no thanks to the whole mess.
You look at NBC and what they have done with this whole Leno-Conan debacle and the whole Leno in prime-time “experiment,” and it just reeks of, above all else, pure desperation. Many have made the argument, and I don’t disagree, that moving Leno to prime-time was basically a sign of a network giving up on the very notion of having a viable prime-time.
And now, it has backfired big time. It’s like a perfect storm of business forces have forced NBC to make a hopelessly desperate move to undo their first desperate move — and Conan is the one left twisting in the wind.
Tonight, on his show, Conan took a number of shots at NBC (“Welcome to NBC, where our new slogan is, ‘No longer just screwing up prime-time.'”), and they were fun to watch. Conan has always been a master of graceful self-deprecation, and he managed to still do that tonight. But make no mistake: The claws were out, and Conan did not spare NBC — or its inability to figure out a way to do seemingly anything right in the floundering business model that is the traditional broadcast network — in his monologue.
What’s next for Conan O’Brien? Time will tell. But NBC’s attempts to have everything both ways concerning Leno and Conan have proven disastrous. Awful miscalculation at best, and terribly shabby treatment of all of its talent from Conan on down (who aren’t named Jay Leno, of course), at worst.