McGinnis: Do the NBC Shuffle!Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Okay, everybody, let’s do the new dance craze that’s sweeping the nation: the NBC Shuffle!
What? You don’t know how? It’s so easy! First, you stand still for a little too long. Then, you shake everything up. Take a small step forward, then take a BIG step back. Now, plug your ears and say you aren’t moving. Then, shake it up all over again! If you did it right, you should end up right back where you started. Unless your dance partner gets fed up and quits.
Need to hear the instructions again? Okay! First:
1. Stand still for a little too long. 17 years, to be exact. Long enough to let a television institution like “The Tonight Show” wilt in cultural significance, while still inexplicably winning in the ratings. This, despite a host whose sense of humor is as dry and stale as week-old Panera’s.
2. Shake everything up. Decide that a new guy deserves a shot at the big show. Hey, that Conan guy’s pretty darn good. And besides, he’s run our 12:35 show for a decade and a half, he’s more than ready for a run at the top. So…
3. Take a tiny step forward. Sign a deal way back in 2004 with Conan O’Brien that says he’ll inherit “The Tonight Show” in 2009. Announce that the changeover will be happening.
4. Take a BIG step back. Coddle the fragile ego of the outgoing host (and keep him from going elsewhere) by signing him to a new deal and giving him a THIRD of your prime-time weeknight schedule to do a “new” show. Make sure to hype how “new” this show will be, even though it’ll be the same show he did before. This course of action has the added benefit of cutting the legs off of Conan before he even starts. He doesn’t even get to pretend that he’s hosting the “big show” when the “big show”‘s old host is STILL running before him.
5. Plug your ears and say you aren’t moving. When ratings start to plummet for Leno’s prime-time ego-stroke, announce that you’re not changing anything. No, not even though your competitors are easily beating you in his time slot. Not even though your affiliates are near rebellion after reporting a significant ratings drop for their local newscasts after Leno’s weak lead-in. Not even though Conan’s ratings are also down, quite possibly thanks to HIS weak lead-in, and he’s losing easily to a scandal-ravaged Letterman.
No, you say, we’re not moving! This is how the schedule is, and how it’s going to stay! You’ll see, we’ll look like geniuses when everyone else is in reruns and our all-new programming wins the ratings easily! Make sure to pat yourself on the back for aiming so high — “We’ll beat reruns! Yippee!”
6. Shake things up all over again! Not even four months into the experiment that you said you were COMMITTED to for the long haul, announce that you’re ordering 18 different pilots for the fall. Since even an ant with a learning disability can put two and two together, prepare for massive speculation. Insist this changes nothing, and you’re still committed to prime-time Leno. Wait for sarcastic laughter to die down before…
7. End up right back where you started. Barely a week later, confirm what has been heavily rumored for days: Leno back at 11:35! Conan at 12:05! Affiliates get quality lead-ins again, Leno’s back in late night, Conan still has “Tonight,” so everyone’s happy! Right? Right?!?
8. Unless your dance partner gets fed up and quits.
“It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both. But sadly, we were never given that chance,” Conan O’Brien said in a statement on Tuesday.
“My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of ‘The Tonight Show.’ But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.”
Good for you, Conan. You deserve way better than what NBC has done to you. If you do indeed walk away from this, you can do so with your head held high. NBC (and, to a lesser extent, Leno), that’s another matter.
And after this fiasco, I doubt anyone else will be doing the NBC Shuffle soon.
E-mail Jeff at email@example.com.