After failing to intrigue Americans as a prime-time TV star, Jay Leno is returning to his late-night throne — at Conan O'Brien's expense. Reportedly, local NBC affiliates are furious that the ratings-challenged "Jay Leno Show" is dragging down their nightly newcast numbers — forcing NBC to make an abrupt late-night shuffle: Leno will skulk triumphantly back to his old 11:35 pm time slot, bumping "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" back to 12:05 — unless O'Brien chooses to leave the network entirely. Has NBC found a way to solve its "Leno" problem, or is it ruining its storied late-night franchise? (Watch a CNN discussion about NBC's late-night situation)
NBC had to act: The "Leno-in-prime-time experiment" was a failure, says Maureen Ryan in the Chicago Tribune. In a carefully worded statement that's laughably reminiscent of Pee-wee Herman's classic defense ("I meant to do that!"), NBC has admitted that Leno's primetime show did present "some problems," while insisting that the show "performed exactly as we anticipated." Still, affiliates were "not going to continue to tolerate a weak lead-in."
"Is Jay walking back to late-night? Thoughts on NBC's latest morass"
Conan is getting sacrificed for a stagnant Leno: How is it fair that "Conan gets screwed" for a mess that's "completely Jay Leno's fault?" asks Adrien Chen at Gawker. For NBC's Leno-at-10 gamble to pay off, "Leno had to change, but he didn't (or couldn't)." Leno's "folksy…insufferable" schtick has "straddled the middle of the road so exactly that he basically turned into the road." And now, Conan — whose own ratings were dragged down by Leno's flop — has to chose between "Leno's sloppy seconds" or "groveling" to "one of the networks he turn down" a year ago.
"Blame Jay Leno"
The ratings for both hosts may sag further: NBC's switcheroo solution "may please no one," says James Poniewozik in Time, neither Conan fans, nor "Jay fans who would like him to have [his original] Tonight back." But remember, "NBC has contractual commitments to both Leno and Conan that most likely compel massive payoffs if either is sacked early." This ill-planned shuffle well be saving NBC tens of millions.
"Jaypocalypse Now: What is NBC thinking?"
This is just the latest NBC screw-up: "Hell, I even like NBC," and I still don't understand why they "make such poor decisions," says Dan Abramson in The Huffington Post. First, they "deConanified Conan," then they pulled the plug on "Leno" before Jay could "find his rhythm." But Moving Leno back to 11:30 "is a big slap in the face to Leno, to Conan, and most of all to everyone who's watched your network and stuck with you."
"NBC, please stop slapping people in the face"
SEE MORE OF THE WEEK'S COVERAGE OF THE LATE-NIGHT WARS:
• NBC's Conan fiasco: By the numbers
• Conan vs Leno: The CGI Reenactment
• Conan's bombshell statement: His ultimatum to NBC
• Top 7 'Jay Leno and NBC' takedown videos