Sunday, January 10, 2010

$0.00 Payday

NBC made a big deal about moving Jay Leno to 10 pm and installing Conan O'Brien as host of "The Tonight Show" at 11:35. Now, apparently, Leno's and O'Brien's ratings have gotten so bad that they're removing Leno from 10 and putting him on at 11:35, and pushing O'Brien back to 12:05, or something. The New York Times says:

Jeff Gaspin, the chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, told reporters at a press event that conversations were continuing with Conan O’Brien, the host of “The Tonight Show,” about a proposal to push his program back half an hour to 12:05 a.m. The move would make room for a truncated version of “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:35 p.m.

Way back when his new show started, I was curious and watched several episodes of the new Leno show. Thirty minutes is about how much time Leno spent on his monologue. You know, telling jokes about enemas in Australia. So NBC is telling O'Brien, "Let Leno do your monologue, and you can concentrate on bits where you have William Shatner come on and read tweets and things."

If O'Brien leaves the Tonight Show, what will happen to William Shatner?

Such confidence.

This seems pretty bad for NBC. And if TMZ is to be believed (and why not? I believe the New York Times story), it could be even worse:

We're told NBC is in breach of it's agreement with Conan by moving the start time of his show. As a result, Conan now has three options.
Option 2: Go to either FOX or ABC. This is where it gets complicated. If Conan were to strike a deal with either network to do a competing show, any salary Conan pulls in would offset the obligation owed by NBC. So, for example, if Conan made $20 million a year at NBC and ABC were to pay him $15 million a year, NBC would only owe Conan $5 mil a year for the four years remaining in his contract.

So, if Conan O'Brien goes to Fox, which has already at least pretended to have some interest, he could work out a deal where Fox pays him a salary of exactly $0.00 per year (or maybe where they pay him minimum wage or something-- wouldn't want to violate the law), thereby forcing NBC to pay him the full $20M a year. For working for another network.

That doesn't seem possible; the networks have lawyers who are paid to prevent that sort of thing, but it's still kind of a nice idea. NBC deserves to be stiffed at least a little for what they've done. As The Wrap points out, it appears at least on the surface that O'Brien is getting shafted pretty hard:

The network stood by Leno during his first two years on "Tonight," when he lost a chunk of Johnny Carson's audience and fell behind David Letterman.

O'Brien has suffered similar growing pains, losing scads of older viewers.

Yet, interestingly, while O'Brien's demo numbers are down from Leno's reign, "Tonight" and "Late Show with David Letterman" remain in a close race among the only metric NBC claims to care about: adults 18-49. This, despite the fact that NBC's woeful 10 p.m. performance has caused numerous NBC affiliates (and owned stations) to experience dramatic ratings declines.

O'Brien's ratings are down because his local news lead-ins' ratings are down, and the local news lead-ins' ratings are down because NBC's 10PM ratings are down. Leno is on at 10PM.

But really, how much longer is the entire idea of "time slots" going to exist anyway? By 2014 DVRs are expected to be in over 50 million homes. Most cable systems have on demand services. At the Consumer Electronics Show this past week, Samsung introduced "apps on your TV":

Samsung has announced that it is allowing software developers to invent apps – or applications – for its latest televisions, giving viewers the chance to use their TVs to watch news, go shopping, catch up on old programmes, play games and even Tweet.

Time slots are going to seem so quaint, one day. We'll all be able to tell our kids that way back when, we had these things called "networks" that would "broadcast" shows that we would have to "record" on devices called "DVRs," so we could watch them anytime we wanted thereafter.

"But daddy," (or "mommy") these kids will say, "why didn't you just watch the shows when the app appeared?"

"Those were dark ages."

And you'll get a blank stare.

NBC is making excellent business decisions... FOR ME TO POOP ON!

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog pic source.


shampoo said...

I can't believe nbc even tried that move with leno in the first place. no surprise it failed. big surprise they had no contigency plan. they ran off letterman... seems like they'd have learned from that (i realize it's probably different executives, but still).

Ricky Sprague said...

shampoo, have you ever seen the movie or read the book "The Late Shift," about Leno taking over The Tonight Show and Letterman going to CBS? It's pretty fascinating. NBC really messed that up every step of the way. Spectacularly. But somehow they've managed to bitch this up even worse.

Before Leno's 10 oclock show started, I read some stories about how NBC wouldn't let him do the things that he wanted to do, kept micromanaging, etc, so he just ended up basically doing his latenight show all over again, just without a desk. So maybe NBC never really gave Leno a chance. Or, maybe, Leno just never wanted to do anything different than what he was doing (and in fairness to him he was winning in the ratings by a wide margin when he was forced out).

Whatever the case, there is an interesting "Late Shift" sequel to be made.

shampoo said...

I haven't read the book and I didn't know they restricted jay so much. I was just thinking that logically the late night viewer wants different things than the primetime viewer, so putting a late night show on during primetime won't work. also, it takes a while for the tonight show audience to warm up to a new host. but just like letterman had an audience he took with him... so does conan.

but, I don't watch any of these shows right now, so i'm not too up on it... scary that neither are the execs. sounds like they need to read the book. I might read it, too.

I do get the idea that jay was happy in the first place...