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Jay Leno explains his side of the NBC late night breakdown

by Danny Gallagher, posted Jan 19th 2010 2:31AM
A lot of words have been thrown around this whole late night shakeup over at NBC and Jay Leno decided that Monday, more than a week after this whole thing hit the fan, was the right time to address the situation. Sounds like NBC isn't the only entity in this mess with a timing issue.

Leno took some time before a round of "Headlines" during Monday's show to explain the situation from his point-of-view. He insisted that when NBC decided to pull the plug on his show and refused to release him from his contract, the network was sure Conan O'Brien and company would go for the new deal. He also said Conan acted like a complete "gentleman" throughout this ordeal and insisted that no one blame him for this mess. I think everyone is way ahead of you on that last one.

TMZ grabbed some footage of last night's sincere explanation.

Now compare last night's explanation to the one Leno made back in 2004 when it was announced that O'Brien would be taking over The Tonight Show. Notice the difference in the audiences' reactions when Jay speaks about Conan. This whole thing just puts the "nasty" in "dynasty."

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Lead-ins matter, but only to a certain extent. I remember back before, we'd leave the tv tuned in to NBC on Thursday nights because we'd watch the comedy at 8pm and then just leave it on and watch the other comedies that followed. But that's assuming that we didn't actively dislike any of the shows that followed, or had a show on another network to watch.

Out of all the late-night talk show hosts, I like Jay Leno the most. Even though I usually don't stay up for the late local news or The Tonight Show, I would if I had watched a 10pm drama and then continue watching if some headline on the news interested me. Heck, since I'm still awake, I might as well watch The Tonight Show.

Nowadays, though, I watch Jay's show at 10pm and maybe watch some of the news. But I don't like Conan O'Brien, so off the tv goes. It doesn't matter how interesting the local news may be, I'm not staying up to watch someone I don't like (as an entertainer).

So yes, there might be a diminished lead-in for the local news, which then leads to a diminished lead-in for The Tonight Show. But let's be real, here - how many people still watch the late local news? We can learn of breaking news in an instant on the internet - we can choose who we hear the news from, we can get more details than they give on tv, and we don't have to wait to return from a commercial break.

I thought it was interesting to hear Jay's comments - such as how NBC wanted to keep him on because he is still under contract - I didn't realize this (mostly because I haven't paid much attention to the whole David Letterman/Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien deal). Why wouldn't they have structured Jay's contract so it ended simultaneously with Jay leaving The Tonight Show and Conan taking over? Or something...

January 19 2010 at 11:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To me it boils down to this. I watch my local CBS affiliate for the late news, it's better than the local NBC. But at 11:35 I changed channels to NBC and Leno. Don't care for Dave. After two weeks of Conan I started watching reruns of old tv shows, cake boss or anything else that was on. People watch what they like and are quite capable of changing channels. NBC messed up and what is sad is that two seemingly good guys are now at odds with each other and we're reduced to Team Leno or Tean Coco. Ridiculous.

January 19 2010 at 10:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Eugene, you keep suggesting lead-ins have no bearing... So why not answer me about all the NBC local affiliates news programs losing 30% of their audience... why? Why simultaneously? Why simultaneously and in conjunction with the premiere of Leno?

Keep babbling, but unless you have a response and reason for that... well... you just obviously come off as someone who wants to rant.

The fact is that NBC's 10pm slot was its most competitive slot during primtetime over the last decade. It wasn't Friends or Seinfeld that propped up Leno. It was Friends and Seinfeld propping up ER, L&O, etc, which in turn propped up the NBC affiliates late local news... which in turn propped up Leno.

NBC was regularly winning that time slot. It was their other hours of programming in primetime which were bad... After all, what hour long drama did they get rid of rather than relocate to an earlier slot? Medium? Anything else? And Medium was good enough to be picked up by its production parent, CBS... so... please... It's all been about the network trying to cling to Leno and him loving it...... but him failing.

NEWSFLASH: They did this to Leno, too. Shortly after taking the job and getting drummed by Letterman, NBC actually went into negotiations with Letterman to bring him back to NBC. Those fell apart, they kept Leno...

The difference? Letterman wasn't sitting on a perch waiting for himself to fail and force the failure of everyone else... and when that failure manifested itself, rush back into the void you've created pretending to be above the frey. Leno was.

January 19 2010 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment

Newsflash, ER was bleeding ratings steadily as have the L&O spin offs. You talk about these shows like they're relevant and they haven't been for 10 years.

Leno had crap lead ins and was first in ratings. Dave had some of the strongest prime time shows and was in 2nd.

Conan launched with the same shows that Leno had and promptly lost his audience by the 2nd week. WELL BEFORE Leno launched his tonight show lite.

You can keep throwing the insults around all you like, but it just illustrates that you know that what you're saying doesn't make sense and doesn't hold water. Because, AGAIN, Leno was beating Dave and Kimmel when NBC had the worst performing shows on network TV and Conan launched with those same shows and promptly lost his audience and continued to lose his audience long before Jay showed up with his crap fest.

January 21 2010 at 1:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

but thats the thing. thats how he was able to BUILD an audience. from those shows. since conan never had a good lead in he was never able to build.

January 19 2010 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

its all about lead ins. everyone in show biz knows this.
leno didnt beat letterman in the ratings for his first TWO years. and the reason he did begin to beat dave was because of friends and seinfeld. you need your lead ins

January 19 2010 at 2:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to alameda's comment

And then he kept beating Dave when those shows went off the air and NBC just put crap on for the next 10 years. I think after 10 years even the schlubs who tune in for Jay would have noticed that Ross and Rachel weren't on any more.

January 19 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Archaic thinking...


So, you really think the NBC affiliates that were mostly winning in their markets, who lost 30% of their audience, all just started to suck simultaneously?


Oh, and Eugene, seriously get a clue and re-read the comment you replied to. I said that Conan was started in the summer. Somehow you seem to think that was a good thing that should've benefitted Conan. Wrong.

All a summer start did was give him a weak lead-in of repeats, followed by an even weaker lead-in of Leno.

How anyone can say that Conan's weak lead-ins didn't drastically impact his show is beyond me... it just illustrates how little you understand the business... in fact, it suggests you understand it about as well as the guy who thinks a lead-in doesn't mean anything in 2010.

January 19 2010 at 2:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment

Are you kidding? You think that Conan launching with no other new shows on TV, with massive amount of hype, with Leno pimping it for 4 years, with Conan pimping it on his show for 4 years is a bad thing?

NBC has been bleeding viewers for a decade now, their prime time shows are among the lowest in the network market and yet through all that time Leno managed to beat Dave who has freaking CSI as his lead in. Not to mention Kimmel who has Lost. So how could that be if a prime time lead in was so crucial to the success of a late night show?

Conan delivered a water down version of his shtick that made even Conan fans jump ship and completely alienated the middle of the road audience that Leno had. Conan and NBC tried to please everybody and failed miserably.

January 19 2010 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
charles melrose III

Am I the only fool with a remote control? Or the only one who uses it to select what 11pm newscast--if any--I want to watch without regard to the channel to which I'm tuned at 10:59pm? Same deal at 11:35/11:36pm. Sounds like a lot of this "lead in" discussion is stuck in the '60s when changing channels required standing and walking to the TV. Same discussion ignores technology as much as the discussion of overall decline in late night viewership ignores how online and cable alternatives fit in.

It's archaic thinking, but the networks have lost on so many other fronts that they seem blinded to the sea change in the role of the traditional late night programming cash cow. They should look at newspapers as a parallel to their situation. Change can be crushing.

January 19 2010 at 1:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually Leno held the amount of viewers that he was expected to have. NBC knew it wouldn't be great but decided to go on the cheap.

This entire incident and the fallout lies firmly at the feet of the NBC execs that used horrible, greedy management techniques.. Not in the lap of Conan OR Leno

January 19 2010 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Someone above suggested that a strong lead-in didn't matter... that the lack of one had nothing to do with Conan's failure. BS.

If a strong lead-in isn't important, why is NBC making the change? According to their own comments, Leno was performing EXACTLY as they anticipated. The only hangup was the local affiliates. Some of them had lost as much as 30% because of the weak lead-in.

Now, I'm sure the genius from above would want to suggest that all NBC affiliate newcasts just suddenly got miraculously that much worse, and thus lost ratings, but we know that's bollocks.

Leno bled 30% of the audience for the news. The news, thus, was 30% less effective as a lead-in for Conan's Tonight Show than it was for Leno's.

They promised Jay Leno 2 years at 10pm. Why? To establish himself. They promised Conan the same, probably. Jay even said that they knew he would be a much weaker lead-in, but that's why 2 years... to give him time... Jay specifically points out that they said that he'd be weak in the start against new programs, but that he'd pick up in the spring and summer against repeats........ yeah... true... then again, Conan only ever got lead-ins from repeats and a very weak Leno.

So, how can anyone say this wasn't ALL about Leno failing at 10?

Leno failed horribly, dragging down the affiliates, which in turn dragged down Conan.

Sure, Conan doesn't hold the Leno audience, but I have news for them: The Leno audience is a lot smaller after these events than when he passed the torch to Conan.

January 19 2010 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment

Conan failure started in week 2 of his run and continued through the summer against re-runs when he should have pulled ahead.

Yes, Leno's show tanked but and that obviously didn't help Conan at all but it's ludicrous to say that Leno's show tanking also tanked Conan's show when Conan lost his audience almost from the get go.

January 19 2010 at 2:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I happened to catch this last night. The segment that followed--Headlines--is a perfect example of why this show failed at 10pm. So boring! And it went on way way too long.

January 19 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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