For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past couple weeks, NBC found itself in a media storm which finally faded out last Friday with one casualty – “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.”
It began in 2004 when Jay Leno announced that he would leave “The Tonight Show” in 2009 to retire. His reasoning was simple; he would be 60 by that time and NBC was worried that Conan O’Brien would move to another station, perhaps ABC or Fox.
When 2009 finally did come, NBC made what would arguably be their biggest mistake.Â Â “The Tonight Show” was handed to Conan and “Late Night” (Conan’s former gig) was given to newbie host, Jimmy Fallon. At the 10 o’clock spot, instead of creating a drama to compete with the other networks, NBC decided to bring back Leno, but in a show that no one really cared for or wanted.
As months went by, President and CEO Jeff Zucker became increasingly nervous as ratings for his late-night talk show programming fell. As his competitors gained steam, he did what any executive would do – he panicked. He decided to bring Leno back to 11pm and move everyone else forward by an hour. Conan understandably wasn’t thrilled by this arrangement, seeing as how his new time slot would muddle the flow of programming, pushing “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” to a closing time possibly later than 2am. It seemed like the only resolution would be for Conan to step down and leave NBC.
Once word got out, a Facebook page called “I’m With COCO” quickly rose up and began to spread the word about what was going on. The Team Conan declarations on Twitter also gained traction. By Tuesday the 19th there were rallies around the country, with even Conan and some other staples from “The Tonight Show” attending the one in California despite the pouring rain. Over 650,000 fans joined the Facebook page and Conan’s ratings soared through the roof beating out David Letterman, whom Conan had been competing with in ratings for the past seven months to no avail. With the massive support from the fans and the media attention, it seemed as if there might be a faint glimmer of hope that NBC would reconsider.
They didn’t. A deal was set forth on the eve of the finale where Conan would receive about $33 million as a buyout and his staff will get around $12 million. He will also have to wait until September before he can host another show.
In the past week, celebrity guests showed up on “The Tonight Show” to show their support for Conan O’Brien. The finale featured guests Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, and singer Neil Young. As the show closed, Conan took a moment to move past all the jabs he had taken at NBC (including an attempt to sell the show on Craigslist) to be a true gentlemen. He thanked NBC, his home for over 20 years, for all their support and said, “Iâ€™ve had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-11 parking lot, weâ€™ll find a way to make it fun.”
His final closing statement was to the fans, “I have to say something to our fans. The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and Iâ€™ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please donâ€™t be cynical. I hate cynicism â€” itâ€™s my least favorite quality and it doesnâ€™t lead anywhere.”
As a fan for almost a decade, I wish Conan all the best and no matter where he lands, I’ll stay tuned.