Can NBC Escape Latenight PR Mess?

Can NBC Escape Latenight PR Mess?

Somewhere, Jeff Zucker and Jeff Gaspin — hell, a whole lot of NBC alumni, not all of them named Jeff — should be laughing, or at least smiling.

The New York Times is the latest news outlet to pile on and mildly advance the story that Jay Leno will be replaced by Jimmy Fallon, most likely some time in 2014.

Yet as one would think NBC might have learned by now, there is absolutely no way to do anything involving a change in latenight that does not turn into a whopping public-relations nightmare unless the guy you are replacing comes to you and says, “I really want to spend more time…” A) playing comedy clubs; B) enjoying my car collection; C) at home, counting large stacks of money; or D) any combination of the above.

Now, to go back a few years, even casual observers might recall when faced with this multiple-choice question, Leno chose E) shop myself to other networks, which set off the panic that ultimately led to his 10 p.m. NBC talkshow — you know, the one doing better most nights than the current crop of NBC dramas.

Leno might have a change of heart, but banking on that to save the network’s bacon — and keep its PR department from drinking Maalox out of the bottle — is sort of like betting on three No. 16 seeds to advance in the NCAA tournament.

The real mystery, amid all of this, is why on Earth network honchos — faced with as much bad PR as they’re already garnering — would brave wading into the treacherous waters of latenight at this juncture. Does Jimmy Fallon really have so many inviting options that he has to be handed “The Tonight Showright now, or they’ll risk losing him? And does anyone at NBC really think Fallon — while almost certainly skewing younger — will do markedly better than Leno, especially if the network continues to struggle in primetime?

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the only real strategy that would make sense at this point would be to treat Leno like the Pope: It’s a lifetime gig, unless he decides otherwise.

But perhaps I’m overthinking all this. The Times’ Bill Carter hasn’t written a latenight book in a couple of years, and Conan O’Brien is slated to perform at the upcoming White House Correspondents Dinner in April. Maybe the network just wants to give the two of them — and the rest of us — something to write about and joke about, respectively. (O’Brien’s TBS show, incidentally, is dark this week, but those with a taste for the perverse might be inclined to tune in when he returns this Monday.)

The bottom line is until the network definitively settles this question — in a manner that will quiet the speculation, and not just punt it down the road — the Spanish term for the network’s Peacock is going to be pinata.

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  1. Paul Weiss says:

    Removing Jay Leno from The Tonight Show will be the final act of current NBC executives. Leno is not the reason for network’s fall; he simply enjoys making light of it using his great wit. I consider Letterman far superior to Fallon and firmly believe that a boneheaded Fallon over Leno replacement will leave NBC latenight in the same position as its primetime – struggling for 5th place in the ratings.

  2. JamesH says:

    When will NBC wise up and replace their execs instead of messing with the pope of late night? Five million viewers will follow Jay to his new home if in that time slot, or most of them will, anyway. All Jay has ever done is deliver exactly what they’ve wanted for the last 21 years. Leave it to NBC’s cast of idiot decision makers to screw up their top-rated franchise. They would have been fired ages ago in the real world for spending all this time in last place. The press should be focusing on them – time for another book, Bill Carter!

  3. Bob C. says:

    You know that old saying about lunatics running the asylum? The National Bats**t Crazy network is at it again! I’m old enough to remember Johnny Carson making jokes about NBC and a good time was had by all. And when the network was flush with The Golden Girls, Frasier, Cosby, Seinfeld, Friends, etc., Leno’s jokes were welcome and nobody got their noses out of joint. But now the snakes at the top of the bottom-rated network don’t like to be reminded of their many, many, many, many failures and now they are super-sensitive. Poor babies. Leno is their gold standard when it comes to ratings. NBC execs are too desperate and incompetent to recognize it.

  4. Mark says:

    Apparently Bob Greenblatt’s goal is to sink NBC in every possible way. If he gets rid of Brian Williams, he’ll have a clean slate of failure — what a legacy!

    • Scuba Girl says:

      Thankfully, Greenblatt is only in charge of NBC Entertainment. His purview does not extend to News. That would be Pat Fili-Krushel. Of which I can say very little, being brought up to believe that if you can’t say something nice, to say nothing at all.

  5. James says:

    It is baffling that NBC would want to once again replace their only number one show and go through another publicity nightmare. Heck, they still haven’t recovered from their poor judgement at the today show. Hopefully CBS will pick up Leno and treat him as he should– the number one late night host

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