Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about how NBC should rearrange its programming schedule as far as Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon are concerned. But it may not be quite so simple.
You see, these folks all have contracts. What we don’t know – and NBC certainly isn’t going to make it public – is how specific those contracts are regarding the length and time slot of their shows. If Jay Leno is guaranteed primetime, he could be free to walk if NBC tries to move him back to late night – essentially making him a free agent if the network wants to get out of it primetime commitment.
Conan O’Brien, likewise, might not be too keen about the schedule shift rumor most often heard. Does he really want to follow a half-hour Leno show every night? Would he be placed in a position of only getting guests who can’t get onto the Leno warm-up? If O’Brien has an out in his contract, he would certainly want to at least talk to Fox about going there.
As the new kid in the lineup, Fallon isn’t likely to complain too much if his start time gets moved back a half hour, just so long as he gets to hold onto his show.
If either Leno or O’Brien bolts for Fox, you could have a whole new competitive situation in late night talk. Presumably, a new Fox show would start at 11:00 pm, following the 10-11 pm local news on most Fox stations, airing against half-hour 11 pm newscasts on most ABC, CBS and NBC stations. That would give the Fox host (whether Leno or O’Brien) a half hour head start each night to grab viewers before Letterman on CBS and the NBC entry (whether Leno or O’Brien) takes to the air. Now, that would be an interesting change.
So unless you’re Jeff Zucker (and a tip of the hat if you’re reading this, Jeff), figuring out how to rearrange the NBC schedule is like Fantasy Football. Everyone else can fantasize, but Zucker has to deal with real people, real egos and real contracts.
Once he’s made the decision to kill the primetime “The Jay Leno Show” – which is pretty much a given at this point – Zucker also has to deal with how to fill five hours weekly of his network’s primetime schedule. With few adult dramas remaining on the NBC schedule, there’s not much he can shift to the 10-11 pm ET/PT. The number floating around last week was that NBC has ordered 18 pilots – far more than any other network – to try to identify some new hit shows.
The good news for NBC is that when you’re #4 out of four, you can only move up. But then, Univision keeps growing in hopes of turning the “Big Four” into the “Big Five.” That may be just a matter of time.