What is the late night shuffle doing to the Leno and O’Brien brands?

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Julie is the Founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporations build stronger, more profitable brands.


  1. I feel bad for NEITHER one of these multi-million-dollar late-night comedians; in fact, their material has never been sharper than in the past week or so… they (& their brands) will survive.

    If anything, while not a huge fan of Conan, I respect HIS RESEPCT for the instiution of the Tonight Show & its history that he does not want to see it moved to 1205am for a 30-minute Jay Leno show. He clearly is putting the history of the 60 years of the Tonight Show (Paar, Carson, even Leno) ahead of his own self-interests.

    On the other hand, it’s the schmucks at NBC whose brand is tarnished. Since this fiasco went public, Jay & Conan have relentlessly “Bashed the Brass” in their nightly monologues.

    Ex-NBC’er & current CBS’er, David Letterman has gotten in on the act as well. Letterman had the line of the week in his typical staccato-stammer: “Uh… NBC called, and apparently they STILL don’t want me back!”

    Leno, as host of Tonight regularly beat Letterman’s Late Show head-to-head at 1130, had his best line when he called out 4th-place NBC (Overall in Prime-Time) for only cancelling its 1st Place-programming!!

    NBC honcho Jeff Zucker, in every effort to avoid what happened in 1992 when Johnny Carson left, has created an entirely new kind of late night snafu. Way to go, Jeff. You can’t make this stuff up!

    • In case you didn’t see it, this is the very public “resignation” letter that Conan issued last week. Career bloggers have been condeming it for a bad career move (e.g. don’t back your boss up against the wall- and certainly not publicly). Curious what you think. I do like the apology about the hair…very on brand.

      People of Earth:

      In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

      Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over “The Tonight Show” in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004, I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. 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. After only seven months, with my “Tonight Show” in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

      Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the “Tonight Show” to 12:05 to accommodate the “Jay Leno Show” at 11:35. For 60 years, the “Tonight Show” has aired immediately following the late local news. 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.

      So it has come to this: 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. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet, a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the “Tonight Show,” I believe nothing could matter more.

      There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, 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.

      Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.



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