The High Definition Scheduling Dance of NBC Late Night


Sports fans no longer have to look to NFL Sunday Ticket for competition on their high definition televisions.  Thanks to NBC´s late night scheduling debacle, TV viewers are getting their fair share of contests and rivalries five days a week.  

Last year, Jay Leno renounced his position as host of The Tonight Show, handing the historic program over to his successor, Conan O’Brien.  The shift came as a result not of Leno´s low ratings (he had been a very strong player in late night television and largely outdone his fiercest competitor, David Letterman) but instead of contractual obligations that promised O’Brien the spot in 2009.  And after a few weeks of rumors and suspicions (Would NBC really replace viewer-friendly ratings-hog Jay Leno with the more obscure humor of Conan O’Brien?), Leno bowed out gracefully.

In September, Jay Leno began a new show in a new format.  The Jay Leno Show was to air from 10:00 to 11:00 every night before the local evening news.  Put up against the traditional dramas of the time spot on CBS, ABC and other networks, NBC executives hoped that the new show would be a refreshing option for viewers.  

While at first Leno´s new program started off strong, ratings soon dwindled.  It was not holding up against dramas as had been hoped, nor was it aiding a helping hand to the local news programs that followed it.  

O’Brien also faced his fair share of success followed by dwindling numbers.  Though younger audiences were enthusiastic about the comedian’s invigoration of the show, older viewers were not so pleased with his sometimes off-beat, non-traditional humor.  As Conan O’Brien’s ratings fell, those of David Letterman rose as more and more viewers changed the channel to CBS at 11:35.  

With both hosts and shows struggling, NBC executives found themselves in quite a pickle when deciding what to do.

In the first week of January, rumbles began that a shake-up was in order at the network.  Soon, the announcement came – The Jay Leno Show would be cancelled in February.  The implications of the announcement, however, were not – and still are not – clear.

After the Olympics, viewers don’t yet know what they will be seeing late at night on NBC on their high definition televisions.  In an effort to keep both O’Brien and Leno content, network executives are in a scramble to rework schedules and shows in order to find a resolution.  Also waiting patiently in the wings are Jimmy Fallon and Carson Daly, whose schedules and, perhaps, job descriptions will be affected by the outcome of this debacle.

There are no clear signs yet as to what will happen in this NBC late night sports event.  O’Brien has released a statement that seems to suggest that he has taken a stand against the network bullies and will refuse to move to a 12:05 timeslot.  And while some rumors suggest that Leno will happily accept his 11:35 schedule again, and maybe even his title as host of The Tonight Show, others suggest he may be abandoning NBC all together.  Only time will tell what the future has in store for NBC late night TV.