Swept Under the Rug during the Late Night Shuffle
Leading up to the past month or so there has been a great deal of controversy at NBC due to the ousting of Conan O’Brien. The story has been framed a certain way thus far by the media. Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien were doing well in their respective time slots. NBC wanted to “revolutionize” prime time by moving Leno from late night at 11:35 to 10:00. O’Brien would then take over Leno’s show and Leno would do what he’s already good at in a slightly different show. To make a long story short, it didn’t work out. O’Brien has been booted from the network and his contract has been compromised. Leno will be returning to his former slot and former show next week after the Olympics.
Conan O’Brien and the 11:00 news were collateral damage in the whole affair. The party that really suffers is NBC itself. The key ingredient to the fiasco is largely missing from the media coverage. NBC wanted to revolutionize prime time, but why? There are two reasons for why people do anything. There is the real reason and then there’s the reason that sounds good. NBC wanted Leno at 10:00 because its hit shows cost too much money to produce compared to what they recoup with advertising. In monologue after monologue, Leno joked about NBC’s struggle for ratings. In a subtle way, he told us already everything we needed to know. The average person has no idea how entrenched advertising is with programming schedules. He can irk the network all he wants, but never his sponsors.
Shows like Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, and Heroes have kept NBC afloat for years, but not without a hefty price. Everything else on the network during primetime is either a reality show or a half hour comedy with a couple of exceptions. NBC’s Trauma was cancelled after just one season. Even though I liked it, I already knew that its days were numbered because the larger the budget, the greater the liability. Law & Order has a tried and true fan base. Anything else that requires writers, actors, and sets will have its work cut out.
Across the board, Network TV and Cable are obviously milking the same formats. When I get a chance, I intend to tally up all the current one hour dramas about cops, lawyers, detectives, psychiatrists, doctors, and scientists. The old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Is it a stretch for me to think that it isn’t the format that’s broken, but the networks? These shows have been oversaturated for some time now! NBC’s first new offering out of the gate is another talk format hosted by Jerry Seinfeld and “friends.” It’s called “The Marriage Ref.” As someone who enjoys shows with production value (I’m not a fan of anything reality TV) I now have a chip on my shoulder. Leno couldn’t save prime time because it can’t be saved! There’s no quid pro quo. The future of network TV is uncertain because the bridge between sponsors and viewers practically burns itself. Are we doomed to more of the same?