Conan O’Brien Should Out-Fox NBC

NBC’s reasoning for bringing back Jay Leno to late-night TV is baffling. I now understand why TV programming is rife with dumb-ass decisions: The people making them.

Here’s the basic story: Last year, Conan O’Brien replaced Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show as planned. But then NBC gave Leno his own show at 10 p.m., preempting Conan by 95 minutes, five nights a week. NBC figured Leno could carry the timeslot, saving boatloads of money otherwise spent on producing dramatic programming. Whoops, Leno couldn’t deliver the ratings, and NBC affiliates complained they were losing local news viewers at 11 p.m. The solution isn’t rocket science: Can Leno.But n-o-o-o-o-o. Over the weekend NBC announced that in February Leno would return to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot, pushing Conan to 12:05 a.m. If Leno was no good at 10 p.m., why give him back 11:35 p.m.? Conan is w-a-a-a-y funnier, and the Tonight Show is so much more entertaining with him as host.

Day before NBC’s official announcement, when rumors were thicker than Leno’s chin, Wall Street Journal reported that “Conan O’Brien and his advisers were mulling career options Friday, including jumping to a rival television network” and that “one suitor is News Corp.’s Fox network.” Hell, yes, what a brilliant counter-programming response.

Fox affiliates run local news at 10 p.m. Conan’s Fox show could run at 11 p.m., competing with NBC affiliate’s local news casts and preempting Leno by 35 minutes. The downsides:

  • Some people would switch channels from Conan to Leno
  • Many Fox affiliates fill late night with lucrative reruns of shows like “Seinfeld”

Conan would be yet another reason to love Fox, which airs most of the TV programming I watch.

Photo Credit: Neil McIntosh