Monday, January 11, 2010

In wrecking its brands -- and its broadcast schedule -- NBC forgot what Carson always knew

By dragging out the agony, NBC's disassembly of its brands continues right on track to disaster. Both Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien are now so tarnished that trying to shove them both back into an abridged version of their original time slots isn't likely to work either. Talk about corporate floundering.

NBC got into trouble originally by forgetting what their great star Johnny Carson always knew -- The Tonight Show was about lulling an audience of sleepyheads off to sleep in a non-threatening and entertaining way. Or, as Billy Wilder put it in Kenneth Tynan's memorable 1978 profile of Johnny Carson for The New Yorker:
He enchants the invalids and the insomniacs as well as the people who have to get up at dawn. He is the Valium and the Nembutal of a nation.
Leno was no Johnny Carson, but he did a pretty good job of performing this important function. He was easy to fall asleep to. Which is why moving him up to prime time was so stupid. Who wants Valium in prime time?

Of course, there were plenty of other contributing factors to the fiasco: NBC's all too apparent greed and short-term thinking. Their total disregard of the needs to their affiliates, which came back to bit them. The fact that no major network had ever made a nightly talk show work in prime time. Etc., etc.

But it all began with the fact that a face we long associated with dozing off in bed was guaranteed to be an irrelevant snooze in prime time (and that Conan was too excitable and hyperkinetic for the Tonight Show slot). Couple that with NBC's refusal to invest any resources in at least trying to turn the Jay Leno show into a real prime time player, the move was guaranteed to turn out badly. As will the new move. Who wants to go to bed and watch two people associated with failure on such a massive scale?


JamJam said...

NBC wanted the best of both worlds at the time. If they didn't concede to Conan 5 years ago, they would have lost him to Fox. I was a huge Conan fan prior the announcement that he would be taking over for Leno. Since that day, his show continuously dumbed itself down to a shell of its former self. It's just not that funny anymore. He can't sustain a 15 minute monologue. Fallon hasn't taken over the off-the-wall mantel Conan used to hold. If Conan leaves, I won't miss him.

Anonymous said...

Conan stinks. I like the Scottish guy better.

Madison Guy said...

Me too. Definitely.