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How Screwed is Conan O’Brien?

By Brian | December 10, 2008 | Share on Facebook

So, you’re Conan O’Brien and you took over the late-night show (12:30AM) from David Letterman back in the mid-90s. No one thought you’d survive, but you made it work. Then, Jay Leno announces he’s leaving the Tonight Show and, unlike the Carson/Letterman thing, you are named as his successor. Life is good, right?

Well, now, Jay Leno has announced┬áthat he’s going to do a daily show on NBC at 10pm. It won’t be a copy of The Tonight Show, he says, but it will contain “comedy staples” like “JayWalking” and “Headlines.” Also, guest stars doing interviews. So now, 10pm becomes “Tonight” and 11:30 becomes “Late Night.” What’s changed for O’Brien? Nothing.

At least nothing good – 50% more people watch TV at 10pm than at 11pm, so with a 10pm instance of the late-night talk show genre available, those people who “endure” 11:30 TV viewing can pack it in early for the night, reducing the audience. And the poor slob who winds up with the 12:30AM slot? Might as well do infomercials if you ask me…

On a related note, this confused me:

“I find it to be a bold, future-forward move,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, executive vp entertainment at Chicago-based ad buyer Starcom. “It’s a defensive move to keep Jay from going to ABC. But it’s an interesting move in the sense that if it can work, it’s not a show that you DVR.”

The TiVo-busting nature of a daily talk format was one of many arguments that NBC co-chiefs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff made in their appearance with Leno in Burbank on Tuesday.

TiVo (and other DVR systems) are driving down ad revenue on TV because people can so easily skim through (or skip over) the commercials now. But I don’t understand how a 10pm talk show is something you don’t DVR. My DVR works just fine at 10pm, and as long as the show has commercials, it’s just as valuable to DVR as any other show, no? I DVR John Stewart’s show every night – most nights I watch it live or just after live (if I miss the first 10 minutes, DVR lets me start from the beginning). And if I go to bed early or am doing something else at 11pm (e.g., blogging), I can watch it the next night. Color me confused by this anti-DVR logic…

Eventually, I predict that network TV will go back to the old advertising methods of the 1950s – in-show advertisements by sponsors. So, Jay Leno would stop during his monologue and tell the audience about how great Viagra is, or whatever they’re advertising that day. Then, the show really is DVR-proof, because you never know when the commercials will start/end, or even if you’ll miss something funny during a commercial spot (check out 2:26 from this Tonight Show video. A couple of those per week, and no one will want to scan past the commercials…)

Topics: Primetime TV | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “How Screwed is Conan O’Brien?”

  1. jason says at December 10th, 2008 at 7:42 pm :
    I really don’t get the thinking behind this new Leno show… as you point out, it seems to accomplish nothing except to bump the whole “late night” schedule a little earlier into the evening. While running a cheap-to-produce talk show is no doubt appealing for the network — it’s five fewer hours of expensive drama they’ll have to produce — what makes them think that anyone wants a talk show at that hour? And haven’t similar shows been tried in the past? I seem to recall a couple of attempts back in the ’80s that went no where fast.

    (Incidentally, I should perhaps mention that here in the mountain time zone, things that run at 10 on the East Coast play at 9, so I don’t know that it will make a big difference as far as people going to bed earlier and screwing the guy who gets the third slot, at least not in all time zones.)

    As for your speculation that we might return to the old-fashioned methods in order to thwart DVRs, I’d actually welcome a sponsored show if it meant they weren’t going to be breaking away every five minutes for a string of unrelated (and often wildly inappropriate the program) ads.

  2. Kisintin says at December 11th, 2008 at 10:12 am :
    The only reason I ever watched Leno was for the Headlines segment. Conan definitely got screwed.

    Will NBC ever learn? There was piece of news presented in my class that next Season NBC is doing away completely with prime-time (9 to 10 slot) dramas. The reasoning is the cost to produce them.

  3. Brian says at December 11th, 2008 at 11:38 am :
    Agreed, Kisintin – while I was a huge Johnny Carson fan, my appetite for The Tonight Show waned significantly as Leno got going. Headlines was (and is) cute, but you can find the same thing on the Internet these days, so that one skit just isn’t enough to keep me watching the show.

    If I had to give a reason, I think I’d have to say it’s Leno’s propensity to make ordinary people look bad for laughs (e.g., “Jaywalking”), while Carson always went out of his way to make people look good. Also, Jon Stewart is just frickin’ hysterical, and that’s enough comedy/talk show for one evening for me…

    As for primetime dramas, I’ve read about the cost savings rationale as well. This was the same rationale that spawned the Reality Show craze a few years back. And while it’s true that these shows use less sets, writers, actors, etc., I think they also provide less “brand loyalty.” I can miss a Tonight Show (or two, or nineteen) and pick up where I left off. But if I watch ER, I need to see it every week to keep up. That’s gotta drive ad revenue somehow…


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