Less than an hour ago, Bill Carter of the New York Times posted a statement from Conan O’Brien on the Times’ “Media Decoder” blog. The statement, for those who’ve avoided hearing this, refers to NBC’s late night shake-up, moving Jay Leno back to 11:35 PM, O’Brien to 12:05 AM, and Jimmy Fallon to 1:05 AM (for more on this story, please read Carter and Brian Stelter’s article, here).
In the statement, O’Brien breaks down the reason for the ratings failure that has been the Jay Leno Show which has lead to a lackluster ratings share for O’Brien’s own ‘Tonight Show:”
I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like [Leno], I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.
But sadly, we were never given that chance. 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.
O’Brien continues, attempting to justify his reasoning behind refusing to leave the 11:35 PM time-slot:
So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.
The last part, hi-lighted in blue, raises an interesting point. Yes. By definition, the Tonight Show should actually air.. tonight. But to suggest that television overrides DVR technology and the Internet is short-sighted. Not that I’ve been checking every day (mainly because I wasn’t expecting this to happen), but when I do visit Hulu and check on the Most Popular videos of the day, the Tonight Show is always at the top of the list.
Now, does that mean that O’Brien’s wrong and the Tonight Show thrives on the web? Not exactly. The vague calibration of “popularity” does have a bit of a kill date as popularity per week, month, year has each episode of the Tonight Show buried by shows like The Office, Family Guy, and The Simpsons (ironically, O’Brien’s former employers).
The mobility of the web makes it more of an ally to the Tonight Show than a foe. That same mobility, or lack thereof, handicaps DVR technology. The Tonight Show airs at 11:35 PM, if someone DVRs the programs and watches it before heading to work in the morning, the content is still ‘fresh.’ However, if that same person doesn’t watch the program until coming home from work, most of the material has ‘expired’ (via other media, water cooler talk at work, interpersonal conversations, etc), making a DVR’d version of the program less of a reward for said viewer.
In the end, O’Brien is obviously concerned about the tradition of the Tonight Show more than anything. His argument against DVR and Internet assistance is documented and the introduction of ‘fresh’ and ‘stale’ media content demonstrated why. As to the future of NBC’s late night programming and current Tonight Show host, O’Brien offers the following:
There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.
Essentially, he cannot contractually talk about any pending offers from Fox, or any other network. It’s a messy situation for the three hosts and an obvious black-eye for NBC. O’Brien’s comments about television daily evolution toward Internet and DVR technology sheds an interesting angle on the story.