Conan O’Brien could well be headed to Fox after making it clear to NBC that he will not go graciously into the later night. But a channel-changing question that is making the rounds has more to do with what the drama unfolding between O’Brien and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno says about NBC and its agreed joint venture with Comcast. If nothing else, the lack of replacement programming for the slot Leno is vacating, and the purported profitability NBC still enjoyed by having a cheaper, single-star variety show in a traditionally pricey prime-time slot, raise an obvious question — why the rush?
John Hudson at the AtlanticWire does a nice job of collecting some thoughts on pressure that was probably building from Comcast, from angry affiliates who wanted Leno and his show’s crummy ratings out of that vital pre-news slot, to improving PR.
“Though NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Gaspin said the Comcast deal has nothing to do with the decision, pundits say Gaspin has ‘every incentive to show improvement’ before his new bosses at Comcast takeover,” Hudson says.
NBC said local affiliates had seen a 30 percent drop in audiences for their 11 p.m. news shows because of the weak lead-in from Leno. That would certainly have been alarming to Comcast, which knows a lot more about getting content into people’s homes than it does about who is funnier, Conan or Leno.
Another reason Comcast may be the ultimate culprit here is change itself. Taking big, noisy, tough decisions before the deal with NBC gets its regulatory blessing means not having to take them when a new bunch of executives is taking charge of the remote control.