5 Lessons to Learn From the Leno/Conan Controversy

We wrote several months back on the transition of The Tonight Show from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien. I commented on how gracious Jay was and how excited I was to see Conan host Tonight.

Looks like that excitement was a bit premature.

Chances are you’ve heard about the epic fail NBC has itself wrapped up in. It looks like it’s Jay v. Conan v. NBC and no one is going to come out on top.

As a casual observer, here are some things we can take away from this late night letdown:

5. Stick to the Script!

According to Conan himself, NBC never gave him a chance to “get the wheels moving.” Leno is proud of touting the fact that he entered as host to The Tonight Show as #1 and left as #1. What people don’t realize is that there was 17 years of work and ups-and-downs in between those two periods. Leno wasn’t #1 the whole way.

NBC had a plan devised to let Conan take over since 2004 and they only gave it seven months to develop. That’s a recipe for disaster. From Conan’s official statement: “After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.”

4. A Little Humility Goes a Long Way

People are calling Conan a “class act,” “humble” and characterize him as “taking the high road.” Meanwhile, people are calling Leno “unfunny,” “a corporate shill” and saying “he needs to go.” NBC is getting its lumps as well – one only needs to take a quick peek at the #NBCfail hashtag on Twitter to see what people really think. I don’t think Leno is to blame for this major snafu, but that’s not the perception of the public. And in instances like these, perception is everything.

3. People Will Notice

I think NBC was hoping no one would notice this decision. A kind of, “there’s nothing to see here” attitude has characterized the execs at NBC in all the media appearance I’ve witnessed. Unfortunately for them, people are noticing this. And they aren’t happy. They aren’t happy because people, A.) Don’t like the decision and, B.) Don’t like feeling as if someone is trying to hoodwink them. If you try and make sure no one notices, people will notice.

2. Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say!

In the same vein as #5, let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no! Now you have a major network on the brink of late night disaster because they did not say what they meant or mean what they said. No matter what happens from this point, Conan is gone from NBC. I don’t see any way for him to remain on that network given the way he’s been treated. Not only that, but you have the fates of Jimmy Fallon, Carson Daly and Jay Leno hanging in the balance. (Some say that Leno is getting ready to jump ship as well.)

NBC has tried to weasel around by saying that Conan will still be the host of Tonight, only it will air 30 minutes later. Nevermind the fact that Tonight has held the time slot for the entirety of its 60-year history! Technically he would still be the host of Tonight, but as Conan said in his now infamous statment, “The Tonight Show at [a later time] simply isn’t the Tonight Show.”

1. Never Underestimate the Power of Twitter

#TeamCoco, #TeamConan, #ProCoco, #SaveConan – if you read any of the tweets coming from these hashtags, one thing rings true: Twitter loves Conan! There are petitions being tweeted around, EECB’s (executive email carpet bombs), fan art and more, all for the love of our beloved Conan. It remains to be seen if this social media support will have any effect on the decisions made at 30 Rock (my guess: It won’t). Nevertheless, people are letting their voices be heard via Twitter.

Those are some of the lessons I’m walking away with.

What do you think about the Leno/Conan debacle?

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8 Responses to “5 Lessons to Learn From the Leno/Conan Controversy”

  1. buddyrigotti January 13, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I agree with you 100% Justin. Also, I always thought Conan was much funnier than Jay. I watched Jay's new show a couple months ago and his monologue was so bad – but it was bad before in my opinion. Conan is just plain funny.

  2. buddyrigotti January 13, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I agree with you 100% Justin. Also, I always thought Conan was much funnier than Jay. I watched Jay's new show a couple months ago and his monologue was so bad – but it was bad before in my opinion. Conan is just plain funny.

  3. Christine Meggison January 13, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Great points, Justin. Especially #5: Stick to the Script. I agree, how can NBC judge Conan and The Tonight Show's success after only seven months. ESPECIALLY when you stick his predecessor on at an earlier time slot. Doomed to fail….!

    Poor Conan didn't have a chance from the beginning and it's no wonder it's a colossal mess. I hope someone grabs him and he gets the last laugh…..literally.

  4. Justin Wise January 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    Conan rules. I knew the Meggisons thought so!

  5. Michael DiMarco January 14, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    You forgot lesson #6: be meticulous in the details in your contract or get a lawyer/agent that does. Leno's contract listed the time slot he must be in (10-11pm.) Conan's only said he gets to host The Tonight Show with no mention of time slot. Funny that NBC will air the Tonight Show tomorrow morning (12:05 am) if they stick with the current reorg plan.

  6. Justin Wise January 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    Did you hear the latest news? Conan's out. Leno's in (his old slot). Lame.

  7. michaeldimarco January 14, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    You forgot lesson #6: be meticulous in the details in your contract or get a lawyer/agent that does. Leno's contract listed the time slot he must be in (10-11pm.) Conan's only said he gets to host The Tonight Show with no mention of time slot. Funny that NBC will air the Tonight Show tomorrow morning (12:05 am) if they stick with the current reorg plan.

  8. Justin Wise January 14, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    Did you hear the latest news? Conan's out. Leno's in (his old slot). Lame.