NBC seem to have a knack for setting up Kobayashi Maru situations for themselves. First it was Jay vs Dave, now, years later, it’s Jay vs Conan. And I’m pretty sure Conan won.
For those of you living next door to Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani cave for the past few months, here’s a quick rundown of the situation: Jay left the Tonight Show for his own prime time gig at 10pm. Jay flopped in prime time. NBC says “Hey, no problem. We’ll move you back to The Tonight Show.” Conan says “Uh, hey, no. That’s my gig now.” NBC says “Oh, well fine, we’ll just move The Jay Leno Show to 11:35 (The Tonight Show’s timeslot for the past 40 some years or so) and make it half an hour. Then you keep The Tonight Show, but it’s on at 12:05. So then Conan is all “That would make it The Tomorrow Show. Not gonna do it.”
At this point, to somebody with some sense, it would seem that the best solution would be for NBC to say “Ok then. Hey, sorry Jay. You kind of suck anyway, and your show blew, and you’re sixty years old and not funny. So… You’re fired.” Or something similar. I mean, do you know anybody who thinks Jay Leno is funny? I don’t. Ok, I lie. I know one person. But he’s kind of odd in the head. To be honest, Conan isn’t that funny either, but he’s still more funny than Jay.
But no, instead they gave Conan a huge pile of money to go away. They’re going to give Jay back The Tonight Show, and Conan will turn up on some other network in the fall when his no-compete clause is up.
The most ridiculous part about this whole thing is that the hand-off of The Tonight Show from Jay to Conan was orchestrated five years ago, in a bid to prevent exactly this kind of stupidity–NBC went through a huge shake-up when Jay took over from Carson, because everybody and his mother (including Johnny Carson himself) thought the obvious choice to replace Carson was David Letterman, who was then hosting Late Night, the show that comes on after The Tonight Show. Instead, NBC execs went with Jay, and Letterman took off for CBS.
This time, NBC gave everybody a five year heads up on the hand-off, and locked Conan into the job–and then paid him millions to go home after just seven months.
Good job, NBC!