×

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.

More TV

  • A.P. BIO -- Pilot -- Pictured:

    'A.P. Bio' Revived for Forthcoming NBCUniversal Streaming Service

    “A.P Bio” has made the grade after all, with NBCUniversal reviving the comedy for its unnamed, still-unlaunched streaming service. The NBC series, which ran for two seasons before getting canceled, performed well online, according to the network, with ratings showing a long tail on streaming platforms as new viewers came to the show late. Nearly [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    'Morning Joe' Airs Archival Footage Linking Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump

    President Donald Trump told reporters recently that he hasn’t spoken to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in more than a decade and that he was “never a fan” of the one-time banking wunderkind and accused sex-trafficker. But footage aired Wednesday morning on “Morning Joe” appears to suggest some of what Trump said wasn’t accurate. The footage [...]

  • Veronica Mars -- "Spring Break Forever"

    'Veronica Mars' Team Talks Leaning Into Noir Mystery for Hulu Series

    After three seasons on broadcast television in the mid-aughts, followed by a fan-funded feature film, “Veronica Mars” is heading to Hulu with an eight-episode standalone season and, most importantly, a new mystery. “I don’t want it to be a nostalgia show,” creator Rob Thomas tells Variety. “Kristen [Bell] says she would do it until it’s [...]

  • Alicia Keyes Kyle Jarrow

    Alicia Keys, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul to Exec Produce Showtime Musical Drama

    There’s music in the air for Showtime. The premium cable network has made a series commitment to a yet-to-be-titled musical drama series executive produced by Alicia Keys, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The series, which will be produced by Fox 21 Television Studios, “traverses generations to tell an emotionally complex family story that interweaves modern-day [...]

  • ‘Eisenhorn’ Series Based on ‘Warhammer 40,000’

    ‘Eisenhorn’ Series Based on ‘Warhammer 40,000’ in the Works From Frank Spotnitz

    “Eisenhorn,” a live-action series based on the “Warhammer 40,000” game and books is in the works. “The X-Files” exec producer Frank Spotnitz will be showrunner. His shingle, Big Light, has teamed with Games Workshop, which owns “Warhammer 40,000” to develop the property. Billed as a genre-bending sci-fi and fantasy series, “Eisenhorn” is set in the [...]

  • gordon-ramsay-masterclass-review

    Gordon Ramsay and Studio Ramsay Return to WME for Representation

    Superstar TV chef Gordon Ramsay has returned to WME for representation after eight years with CAA. WME will represent Ramsay and his production company, Studio Ramsay, in all areas. Ramsay is one of the most recognizable names in the culinary world after establishing himself as a TV star in the U.K. and U.S. Studio Ramsay [...]

  • Daphne Oz leaving the chew

    Fox Renews 'MasterChef Junior,' Adds Daphne Oz as Judge

    “MasterChef Junior” will return for an eighth season with new judge Daphne Oz. Oz will replace Christina Tosi on the judges’ panel, joining chefs Gordon Ramsay and Aaron Sanchez to crown the next winner in the new season. In the upcoming season, the young contestants will cook up meals at locations including a renaissance fair [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content