Conan ain’t interested in NBC’s 12:05 AM pitch – UPDATED

Although NBC has, in the wake of their decision to cancel Jay Leno’s prime-time show, spoken openly about their desire to restructure their late-night line-up to offer a half-hour of Leno, then “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” it’s taken until today for Conan to break his silence on the matter…with a great big “no.”

The New York Times’ Media Decoder column has offered up the full text of O’Brien’s formal statement, and you should absolutely read it in full, as it’s a ballsy missive that’ll make a whole lot of his fellow comedians (not to mention quite a few TV critics, including myself) stand up and cheer. But if you’re just looking for the highlights, here they are:

* “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.”

* “I sincerely believe that delaying ‘The Tonight Show’ into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. ‘The Tonight Show’ at 12:05 simply isn’t ‘The Tonight Show.’ Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the ‘Late Night’ show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.”

* “I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. 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.”

* “I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.”

Okay, first of all, as I said above, this makes me want to stand up and cheer, because Conan’s getting screwed by NBC, plain and simple, and I think it’s awesome that he’s not just going to bend over and take it. But with that said, I can’t see the network doing anything other than saying, “Oh, you’re not going to do it? Fair enough, then we’ll put Jay back into ‘The Tonight Show,'” because they’re certainly not going to give Leno his walking papers.

What do you think Conan should do?

UPDATE: I just popped over to see what was being said about the matter at Deadline.com, and it seems as though there’s a meeting going down at NBC-Universal…or, at least, there was at 1:45 PM PST. According to Nikki Finke, “On one side of the room are NBCU bigwigs Jeff Gaspin and Marc Graboff. On the other side of the room are O’Brien’s reps: manager Gavin Palone, WME agent and board member Rick Rosen, and the newest member of Team Conan — Hollywood litigator Patty Glaser who was hired on Sunday and is WME’s legal shark of choice.”

Per Ms. Finke…

My insiders say O’Brien’s reps didn’t want him to do (release the statement). “They were not thrilled. They told him it would undercut his negotiating leverage,” one source revealed to me. “But Conan wouldn’t listen to them. He wanted to make it.” When Conan read the statement to the staff, “he broke up. He began to cry,” one of my insiders reveals. “Because for 17 years he was working towards The Tonight Show, and now he says he’s prepared to walk away from it. That’s an amazing thing. An amazing thing. But he takes very seriously the fact that The Tonight Show baton was passed to him.”

Here at Premium Hollywood, we can sum up our position on the matter in three words:

‘Nuff said.

  

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TCA Tour: NBC Executive Session

I think it’s fair to say that there wasn’t a single member of the Television Critics Associate who wasn’t chomping at the bit to see how this session was going to go down. With all of the controversy breaking about the reported cancellation of “The Jay Leno Show” and rumors of its host moving to a half-hour slot at 11:35 PM, thereby moving the other members of the late-night line-up – “The Tonight Show starring Conan O’Brien” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” back by an hour, everybody wanted to know how NBC was going to handle damage control.

“I see we have a full house,” said NBC Universal TV chairman Jeff Gaspin, as he walked onto the stage and stood before a ballroom filled with TV critics, many of whom were poised to pounce. “I heard there were some scalpers outside.”

The levity quickly went by the wayside, however, as Gaspin went into the recitation of what one can only presume was a well-tweaked statement, confirming that, starting February 12th, “The Jay Leno Show” will no longer air at 10 PM. He admitted that, although the series performed at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet the needs of the network’s affiliates, hence the change in programming strategy. He also stated that NBC’s goal was to keep all three of its hosts as part of the late-night landscape – “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:35 PM, “The Tonight Show starring Conan O’Brien” at 12:05 AM, and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” at 1:05 AM – while acknowledging that this plan was in no way a done deal and that talks are still ongoing.

“It’s a fluid situation,” said Gaspin. “Everybody has the weekend to think about it, and we’ll see what happens when we start the new week tomorrow.”

While he would not confirm the hosts’ specific reactions to the new plan, Gaspin said that all three gentlemen were “incredibly gracious and professional” and that they acknowledged that they knew it was a difficult situation. As for anything else that went down during the discussions, he merely described it as a “private conversation,” adding, “When it’s all settled, you can go and ask them what their feelings were.”

Gaspin expects that the new late-night line-up will be in place by the time NBC’s coverage of the Olympics begins in February.

Unsurprisingly, the critics’ claws were soon out, with one wanting to know exactly what happened with the network’s assurances during the summer TCA tour that the success or failure of “The Jay Leno Show” would not be determined fully until the series had run for a full 52-week cycle. Gaspin maintained that the 52-week plan still would’ve been his preference but again cited the affiliates’ concerns as being the driving force behind the comparatively-quick removal of the series from its prime-time berth.

“Starting in November, the affiliates started calling, saying that local news was being affected more than expected,” said Gaspin. By the end of the month, the stations which utilized people meters for their ratings continued their complaints, now citing statistics where, in some cases, #1 local news broadcasts had dropped to #3. Gaspin continued his constant dialogue with the affiliates, requesting that they wait and see how the show would do against repeats…and, indeed, “The Jay Leno Show” did do better, but only by about a tenth of a rating point, still coming in second to either CBS or ABC on a regular basis. When the smaller affiliates without people meters got their November book numbers, “the drum beat started getting louder,” Gaspin said, and as it became progressively more clear that they were only going to be getting more vocal about their displeasure, throwing around comments about possible preemption, “we realized things were not going to go well if it was kept in place.”

Gaspin continued to clarify, however, that despite the feelings of the affiliates, NBC did not feel that “The Jay Leno Show” was a disappointment on a network level. “It was working at acceptable levels financially, making money at 10 PM,” he said. “For the network, it was not a wrong decision.”

He also underlined that, insofar as he was concerned, the reason behind the limited viewership had nothing to do with the show or its level of quality. “There’s a lot of choice at 10 PM,” he said. “We thought it could be everybody’s second choice, but there were just so many other choices that people thought were better.” In the end, Gaspin conceded that “The Jay Leno Show,” while being easy entertainment, simply wasn’t the first or even second choice of enough viewers.

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TCA Press Tour: CBS Executive Session

Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, favored us with her presence this morning at the TCA tour, sitting down for an executive session which provided us with the following quotes and tidbits:

* Regarding the decision to place the new reality series “Undercover Boss” in the plum spot following the Super Bowl, she said that it was a combination of good timing and a good series. “We’re very high on the show, but we spent a lot of time talking about what the right strategy would be,” she said. “We’ve seen five or six episodes of ‘Undercover Boss’ by now, and there is a tone and a quality to the show that we felt was a great fit after the Super Bowl. It is aspirational. It is a feel-good program.
Everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program. I think 15 years ago, that spot was used to launch new programming. Obviously, in the last 10, 15 years it’s been used more as a platform to get greater exposure for existing shows. But we thought, ‘You know what? We have a great project, we’re very high on it, and we think we’re going to launch another big-branded reality show.'”

* Obviously, NBC’s continued fall from grace via the great failure that was “The Jay Leno Show” was a topic of conversation that everyone wanted Tassler to weigh in on. “Through it all, we have to realize that ABC, CBS and FOX…we’ve all fared, I think, very well during this experimental phase for NBC,” she said. “But if we can harken back to when there was that grand proclamation about 8 o’clock at NBC…? Remember? We all wrote about that: 8 o’clock was over at NBC. They were going to have a whole different strategy developing for 8 o’clock. And then along came 10 o’clock, and they were going to have a whole different strategy for 10 o’clock. You know, I think ultimately, there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent, and getting your program on the air.”

“The unfortunate thing is that our creative community was to some degree somewhat bruised by this,” she continued. “I think that the talent as this was taking place, a lot of people were put out of work. A lot of people really saw this as having a pretty negative impact on our business. But I think right now for us, it just allowed us to get a bigger piece of the ad revenue pie at 10 o’clock, and again, what I have the most trouble with is for their company, their decision to do what they did, to sort of turn that and say that his is a reflection on the whole network business, I think is misguided. Our business is thriving right now. We are enjoying success with new hit shows, as is ABC, as is FOX. So I think at the end of the day, it was an experiment that obviously did not work, but for us, like I said, there’s no substitute for just developing and producing and launching great shows.”

There’s certainly no question that a couple of CBS earned some additional success from viewers’ indifference to “The Jay Leno Show.” As Tassler observed, “We moved ‘The Mentalist’ to 10 o’clock on Thursday night and launched ‘The Good Wife,’ so 10 o’clock has been good business for us.”

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NBC kills “Southland” in a manner which will annoy even those who DIDN’T watch it

It’s one thing to kill a show when it’s been struggling in the ratings but hasn’t managed to gain a sufficient foothold with viewers. It’s quite another to pull the plug after the show has been renewed for a second season, several episodes have been completed for said season, and it hasn’t even made it back to the airwaves yet.

Sadly, you’ve probably deduced that it’s the latter which has happened to NBC’s “Southland.”

The news broke yesterday via The Hollywood Reporter, who revealed that production on the John Wells-produced cop series is being shut down before any episodes of its second season even make it to air. “Southland” was originally slated to make its return to NBC on at the same time the rest of NBC’s new shows emerged, but instead of having Season 2 kick off on September 18th, the 9 PM timeslot was filled on that Friday by “Dateline NBC.” So it has remained ever since. Plans had been afoot for the series to come back on October 23rd, but…well, obviously, those plans changed.

You barely need to read between the lines of Wells’ statement on the matter in the Reporter’s article to see that it was uttered through gritted teeth:

“I’m disappointed that NBC no longer has the time periods available to support the kind of critically-acclaimed series that was for so many years, a hallmark of their success,” Wells said. “We remain extremely proud of ‘Southland’ and are actively looking for another home for the series.”

Wells may have managed to maintain his politeness in the midst of being profoundly pissed off, but the same can’t be said of Michael Cudlitz, one of the stars of the show.

PopEater.com offered up a piece about the show getting its walking papers from the Peacock and cited Cudlitz’s comments on his Twitter account, which – as of this writing, anyway – remain out there for the world to see:

* Don’t go quietly…….. People need to know when they fuck up this big. Saw ep 2.1 …….. Dumb fucking people.

* season was so fucking good this year…….. I mean good.

* we are still in production. The shows are very, very good………… They have broken their word. I should know better.

* Honestly, not bitter. Kinda pissed. I still believe the show would have done well on Fri.

I reckon we’ll never know if “Southland” would’ve succeeded on Friday nights or not, but here’s hoping that someone…maybe TNT?…will be agreeable to saving the series and giving it a chance to play out for at least a little bit longer. Wells and his cast sat for a panel during the TCA tour in August, and the plans for the upcoming season sounded promising. This actually was a surprise to me…not because I didn’t like what I’d seen during Season 1, but because when NBC’s President of Primetime Entertainment, Angela Bromstad, talked about it, it sounded like it was going to be turning into a show that would feel more at home on CBS.

“I think we’ve made some creative adjustments. I think they tried to do too much in those six episodes, and instead of re-piloting the pilot and letting the audience get more familiar with these characters, they sort of…you know, it became very serialized, and they were a large, large ensemble. So it’s really going to focus on Regina King and Ben McKenzie and the two sets of officers and detectives and sort of focus on, you know, crimes and how they come together.”

To me, that sounded like they were basically going to be getting rid of the type of stuff that Wells brought to shows like “E.R.” and “The West Wing.” But when we talked to Wells later in the tour and Bromstad’s comments – which he hadn’t heard – were brought up, he first smirked and said, “Well, I think we are all interested in reading what Angela had to say to you the other day,” then tried to calm us down:

The show we are making is the show that we wanted to make. I think that, for people who have been watching the show, they will recognize it as the same show, and I think some of the more serialized elements that began to take over a couple of the final episodes will be less serialized, so that someone who shows up and just watches that episode will fully understand what’s happening in the episode. But we are very proud of the show we were making last year, and I think for most casual viewers of the series, they will not see a significant difference in what the show is bringing to them when they watch it. What they had asked us to do when we were coming back was to make certain that the characters of the patrol officers and the detectives were appearing in every episode. When we originally began planning the series, we had talked about doing episodes that would be solely about one group or one character, and they’ve asked us not to do that in the future or move towards that. They would like it to be an ensemble show, which has all of the characters in it on a weekly basis.

In the end, I think you have to trust Wells’ track record as a producer and presume that he and fellow producer Christopher Chulack would’ve still made Season 2 of “Southland” more than worth checking out.

In closing, I feel like I should offer up this comment from Wells during the “Southland” panel about NBC’s decision to wipe out five hours of programming in favor of “The Jay Leno Show.” I don’t think I’m wrong in suggesting that he might well have offered a more succinct response if the panel had taken place on NBC’s TCA day rather than on the Warner Brothers lot, but whatever the case, it strikes me as ample proof that, although he might not be happy that NBC has kicked “Southland” to the curb, he’s probably thrilled at the possibility that he has a chance to peddle his wares elsewhere:

“Well, you know, it would be disingenuous for me to say anything other than this is what I do for a living, and we lost five hours’ worth of time periods that had been known throughout the history of the network for putting some really terrific shows on. So I wish NBC and Jay Leno well, personally. He’s a very nice guy. But I hope he falls flat on his face and we get five dramas back. I mean, you know, that’s what I do for a living. That’s what I think should be on network television at 10:00. It should be an opportunity for narrative programs to be on the air. So it’s only one more thing that’s going to force more and more dramas into the basic cable and pay cable world. And they made the decision that they felt was necessary to make for financial purposes and whatever other decisions they had, but I hate it.”

  

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“The Jay Leno Show’s” saving grace: correspondents

While “The Jay Leno Show” performed well in its second night, Tuesday’s broadcast varied a bit in format. In the show’s premiere, Leno was on camera the entire time (excluding the music act), unlike the later years of his “Tonight Show.” Given Leno’s established presence, viewers will tune in regardless. However, Leno’s well aware that producing five hours of comedy on a weekly basis is taxing, especially at this point in his career. Leno, who’s been in the business for decades, can’t and doesn’t need to get any more popular. Safe comedy simply works in America and we’ll just see how it pans out at 10 PM on weeknights. As long as Leno does his monologue and a high-profile interview, he’ll have his core audience there every night with him. Still, an hour is a long time in television and rather than cram his imposing figure into every segment, Leno’s decided to spotlight comedians he admires or who have garnered the attention of his talent scouts. Last night, comedian Jim Norton made his first appearance on the show in a segment called “Uninvited Guest.” We should see more time devoted to these “correspondents” in the near future — it’s the only reason guys like me will give the show a chance.

  

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