NBC's new late-night schedule: Brilliant by accident?

NBC is the media’s piñata, slammed for everything from screwing up the 10 p.m. original-drama slot to ruining Conan O’Brien’s sleep. But in its own accidental, cynical, necessity-as-mother-of-invention way, NBC’s new late-night schedule could really work for the network. Here’s why:

Presuming Conan agrees to all this (and I think he’d be making a big mistake going over to Fox), we’ll soon have an NBC late-night schedule with Jay on from 11:35 to around 12:05, and The Tonight Show from 12:05 to 1:05. Jimmy Fallon will rub his eyes and broadcast from 1:05 to 2:05. This is a minor revolution in late-night: No network has ever timed its shows to air in this formation.

What does this mean for the competition? David Letterman goes up against Jay in the opening monologue duel, but Dave also faces Conan’s sharp monologues during The Late Show‘s second half-hour, which is when Dave is working his hardest to make sure that his second, B-list guest keeps your interest and that the music acts are lively. This could be a problem for The Late Show.

Even if you’re not a Leno fan, you have to concede that, when he hosted The Tonight Show, his barrage of jokes, the sheer tonnage of humor, was one factor that enabled him to beat Letterman, whose approach has until recently been to keep the monologue brief — a parody-monologue, almost — and then get to his unique, invaluable, “What’s stuck in my craw?” stuff (his true comedy gold) for his second-segment move over to the desk. Which could, dismayingly and depressingly, lead to Leno pulling ahead of Letterman once again.

On the other hand, Craig Ferguson will now start his show during The Tonight Show‘s second half-hour, which thus far under Conan has been pretty snoozy, and then fend off Fallon’s monologue (which frequently sounds like jokes that Conan has rejected and faxed over from The Coast), which Craig can probably do pretty easily.

By contrast, Craig comes out a winner, and all the more ready to move into CBS’ 11:35 slot, when and if Dave hangs it up a couple years from now.

This analysis doesn’t take into account that no one has any idea how viewers will watch these shows. Will they be more likely to stick with one network now, or more likely to channel-flip and time-shift even more energetically?

Let me be clear: As a critic, I hope Dave continues to dominate 11:35, and that my theory about Ferguson comes to pass. But as a late-night observer, I’m just saying, NBC may have stumbled onto something here.

What do you think?

You can follow me on Twitter @kentucker.

Comments (397 total) Add your comment
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  • EWsMom

    I do agree on one part – Letterman is going to get absolutely SLAUGHTERED with this (proposed) new schedule.
    If I were CBS/Letterman, I’d be worried for sure.

    • junierizzle

      Im not sure it will work. Why would people watch a Leno monologue, then Watch Conan’s monologue?
      I think COnan might get screwed again. People will watch Jay’s show then switch to Letterman to see a guest interview. Either way keeping Jay on has ruined Conan from developing. Who knows how popular Conan would have been if Jay just went away.
      I think CONAN is gonna end up leaving eventually. IF LENO brings back his old numbers, what’s to stop NBC from just givng Jay back the whole hour. So COnan might go.

      • wino

        hmmm,true. it might ruin conan, but at the same time, i do think Ken is on to something…research/ratings have shown that people are interested in the opening monologues. Thus by NBC giving us Jay and Conan only 30 min apart, it might keep things fresh and viewers stuck to NBC (vs CBS). its not a bad idea to consider.

      • Bobby’s Robot

        Plus the fact that Leno will continue to siphon off big-name guests that would’ve gone to Conan.

      • JA

        I am one of those people who only tunes into these kinds of shows for the monologue. I can’t possibly be alone in doing that.

      • aly

        JA you’re not alone. i was just thinking “awesome, i can watch dave’s monologue/first half hour, then switch to conan’s monologue, and never have to see either leno who I hate OR anybody’s boring guests.”

      • cschear

        That’s all I watch. If I can get both Jay & Conan then all the better.

      • Mark S

        If it is only going to be a half hour show, then I want to see Leno’s set up. How many guests for a half hour show? The monologue would probably cut quite a bit, which is not a bad thing in Leno’s case.

      • Aidan

        I actually really look forward to Ferguson’s guests. Even if they are nobodies whom I have never heard of, he does such a fantastic job with them that he makes them out to be the funniest things ever.

      • annie

        If Leno only does 30 minutes, either he will have a painfully short monologue, or the entire show will be monologue. I don’t see 30 minutes working for Leno. he is too attached to his man on the street crap.

        Letterman and Ferguson will continue their ratings jump and Kimmel will get a nice slice, too. I don’t think NBC will get out of the new schedule growing pains until maybe next fall or winter.

      • Chevy Chase

        Exactly, Leno will bring back the ratings at 11;30 and Conan will be pushed back to 12:30. NBC is playing games with Conan.

    • Stephanie Tanner

      There is nothing special about Leno, he was a bland mediocore placeholder for the TONIGHT show, at least Conan takes some chances. I think they should boot Leno, give Conan more time and freedom to do what he does well. As far as Ferguson – he has the best show top to bottom among anyone, his monologue is hilarious and his interviews are actually interesting rather than hearing about some pre-arranged boring story that happened to the actor recently.

      • Katyo

        Couldn’t agree more. Leno is the definition of mediocre, Conan is hilarious, and Ferguson makes me laugh so hard it should be a crime.

      • SandyC

        I completely agree, I wish NBC would just dump Leno.

      • LA

        I completely agree. While I do like Conan, I absolutely love Ferguson. Ferguson takes the most chances out of everyone, is the most sharp-witted,and actually holds a conversation with his guests, as opposed to letting them plug their project for eight minutes. They should let Conan have more freedom in every aspect of the Tonight Show: the sketches, the monologue and the interviews.

    • AJD

      Like I mentioned further on, unless NBC can pull in twice the ad revenue from their Jay/Conan block, any victory over Dave is going to be less than cost effective now that they’re paying for 2 big host salaries and show budgets against CBS’s Letterman. I doubt CBS will be overly jealous.

    • Duan

      I think Dave will be fine. Initially, there might be some curiosity for Leno’s show, but with a 30 min format, they will have to chop the monologue or the pre guest skit short. And as I asked when Jay’s show began, how are they going to make it different? just removing the desk didn’t change a thing.

    • Sarah

      I thought ‘The Jay Leno Show’ was the stupidest idea ever. It was ‘The Tonight Show’ at 10pm! And poor Conan, STILL in Jay’s shadow. He’s been screwed over too many times by NBC. But what’s Conan gonna do?

    • Jennifer

      I don’t see how Leno will work in just a 30 minute format. Less monologue? No guests? What exactly will he do?

      NBC had a bad idea moving Leno to 10 not they shouldn’t compound it by making his show 30 mins. Move Leno back to 11:35 for an hour and let him try to regain his audience. Conan moves back to 12:35 and Fallon gets the ax.

      I still think Letterman is better!!

      • vera

        Well yeah. Letterman and Kimmel are my favorites. But I do feel for Conan. Why the hell doesn’t Leno just retire?

      • Maya

        Moi aussi je pre9fe8re bosser chez moi, au meiliu de ma famille ; par contre je carbure plutf4t au cafe9 (enfin, au cappuccino en poudre); et j’ai un “vrai” cartable, en cuir !Bonne semaine (ici on profite encore du soleil pendant les re9cre9s)

    • Lockly

      Well, except Leno’s monologues haven’t been funny since the 1980s, so . . .

    • DVaRmy

      Who even stays up that late?!?!! I am asleep and my DVR is doing all my channel surfing. I love Jimmy Fallon and feel bad that he is getting knocked later.

      • Jaslene

        I like Jimmy too. Still think was a bad move by NBC to have Conan replace Leno for Tonight Show. They should done like they did when Johnny Carson retired give the hosting job to someone who hasnt done a late night talk show before and that is more of an unknown. I’m just glad Carson Dalys show is cancelled. He turned into such a jerk once he got his own late night show.

    • downtown diva

      NBC’s programming execs screwed up by dumping Jay from the Tonight Show, and now they’ve decided to yank his new 10pm show after only 4 months and compensate him with a measly (sic) 30 minute show. Give Jay back the Tonight Show, bump Conan to Carson Daly’s slot or let him go to Fox and keep Fallon on Late Night. That way the schedule doesn’t have to be skewed. I hope Jay doesn’t accept this obvious demotion and finds a network that will show him the respect he’s earned!

      And I do hope Ken T.’s right about Craig Ferguson’s likely ascent to the Late Show in a couple of years or sooner!

    • Chevy Chase

      I really don’t think many viewers will be channel surfing through the various talks shows as EW suggests. Bottom line – Conan is getting screwed. He needs to bolt to Fox as soon as possible and save some face.

  • Daphne

    Maybe NOW NBC will give “Friday Night Lights” the promotion and timeslot it so richly deserves!

  • Ambient Lite

    Fine with me, as long as we also bump Chelsea Lately to 11:30.

    • Shamrock


      • Ambient Lite

        Oh, dear. Come on Shamrock, you don’t have to do this.

      • Shamrock

        Isn’t that what is supposed to happen nowadays. If you disagree with someone aren’t they “haters” All the cool kids are doing it.

      • Ambient Lite

        I don’t know why you’re doing this to ME though. I think we’re on the same team here.

      • Shamrock

        Team Jacob or Team Edward…oh wait…wrong thread…my bad, just so used that every article on EW being about Twilight.

      • Johnification

        No, but every EW article does have some random dude whining about the supposed EW Twilight obsession.

    • Tim (@rural_juror)

      They moved Chelsea from 11:30 to 11 to AVOID this crap. Keep her where she is.

    • Mike

      They should move her off the air. She’s awful.

      • Jaslene

        I’ll get some haters for saying this but I agree with Mike. She is awful and she isn’t funny. They should cancel her show like they did Carson Dalys show.

  • Max

    “sheer tonnage of humor” That implies that what Jay had to say was funny.

    • Ambient Lite

      Right. I don’t know how to say this without it sounding kind of horrible, but it’s very clear that people under 50 “get” Conan’s humor and style and those over 50 don’t – and prefer Leno. Ken has not hidden where his alliance lies, it’s just a generational thing.

      • hamster

        Hey, I’m over 50, and I get both of them. Now, if I could just remember to watch……

      • wg

        *raises hand*

        Under 50. Conan’s still not funny. Jay is occasionally tolerable.

      • A

        I’m under 50 and hate both, even hating Conan more than Leno

      • OMG

        I think Leno is so corny. I have only watched him once in the past 5 or so years (to see Adam Lambert) and that whole “ba, dum dum” set up and delivery of his jokes is just so stupid. Add to it the musical blips and I may as well be watching some hack from the 1930’s standing on a live stage with flop sweat. He just isn’t funny – PERIOD.

      • Tomm

        Conan is 46, and still thinks year 2000 is current time! Tells Gen X jokes about Brady Bunch trivia and McGyver, he’s not ‘young’ anymore.

      • Jaslene

        Um wait a minute… I am NOT over 50. I’m not even over 30. And I’m sorry but Conan is NOT that funny. Very rarely have I ever laughed at something he has said or thought him funny. Granted Jay is NOT the funniest man in the world but like someone else who commented said he is tolerable and sometimes funny. I rather watch him anyday.

      • SandyC

        Not true. This may surprise you, but there are lots of people over 50 that have good taste and dislike Leno who happens to be the worst interviewer on American TV. He should stick to Vegas lounges and leave television.

  • Ramo

    This would actually work out nicely for me as a viewer. Skip Leno, watch Dave 11:30-12:00. Tune in to Conan at midnight and channel surf the rest of the way based on guests/bands.

  • t.t

    craig ferguson is the king of late night

  • donner

    I dunno, I think Jay is past his prime and the fact that his 10pm show proved that. And WHY would anyone want to do Conan’s show if they could do Jay’s at 11:30 instead? I think Conan should go back to NYC and work for Fox…Lord knows Fox would give him plenty of freedom…

    • wino

      the 10pm show didnt prove anything..he had the SAME numbers as he did during late nite. I would wager that if Conan or Letterman tried what Jay did (10pm show vs scripted television), they too would be labeled “failures”. bottom line, talk shows dont draw the same numbers as tv shows, so in the end, you arent getting as many adverising dollars as you could. you keep talk shows late nite or in the afternoon, where 5 million is considered ratings gold.

      • Tom Brazelton

        Conan had the same numbers he did during Late Night because Leno was such a poor lead-in to the local news, no one stuck around to watch Conan. How can one hope to build on their existing audience in that scenario?

    • fivepointer

      I think Conan’s clearly getting sick of NBC. And now that he’s in the 11:35 slot he can’t do the kind of humor he loves & is known for, i.e. the Masturbating Bear. I hope he moves to FOX so he can get that freedom back and make his show better.

      • RJ

        They are totally screwing Conan. He should leave. He will get more money, and freedom. Plus Jay is all about screwing others to get his way. Why did anyone think that Jay changed? He screwed Letterman, and now he is screwing Conan. Jay has no integrity at all.

  • Sparky

    Me thinks Conan will walk…

    • Laura

      I hope he does but I’m afraid he’ll stay. I disagree with Ken in that he should stay at NBC, they screwed him over, he should go to FOX. And I also disagree with wanting Letterman to dominate ratings. I hate that old coot. He’s such a whiny little bitch and rude. But I digress.

  • Kat

    I’m a Leno fan, and I for one am really happy to see him move back to the 11:35 slot. I’m also a Craig fan and I really hope to see him move into the 11:35 spot soon :)

    • SaraJean

      No, no and no. Letterman vs. Conan, and let Conan grow in his situation/position. 12:05am is NOT even TONIGHT!! And Jimmy Fallon’s monologues are sharp and funny, I disagree with Ken there.

    • Tim Allen

      Soooo you want to see BOTH of your favorite late nighters go at it head to head? Guess TIVO just sold another subscription…>.>

  • Dermochelys coriacea

    Seems like a lot of change to just keep Leno happy. Cut him loose already, hes not funny. At all.

    • Al

      Actually, the initial change was to keep Conan happy. Conan was threatening to move so NBC offered him the Tonight Show slot starting in 2009. Leno was still number one at 11:35 so NBC faced the real possibility of losing Leno to another network. They created the 10:00 show to keep Leno from being a competitor and to plug holes in their line-up. It didn’t work and now they have an even bigger mess than if they’d just let Conan go, which may be the end result anyway.

    • RK

      Agreed. That was the plan last year, until they came up with the brilliant 10 pm idea.

      • James

        Definitely agree

      • Amanda

        I agree as well. Although I don’t watch a lot of late night, I really don’t care for Jay. He is whiny, and I don’t like his delivery. I much prefer Dave or Conan, who is really getting the shaft here.

    • MelT

      I agree… Not funny at all… Even the conversations with his guests sound all scripted and setup.

    • icope

      That’s what I’m wondering. Whatever happened to being canceled and being sent packing — Sorry it didn’t work out, good luck with your future endeavors. It seems NBC is managing out of fear, and I really can’t think of anything managed out of fear that has been successful.

      • Nic

        I agree. NBC readily pulled the plug on Southland and moved several other long time shows to days to basicly watch them die. All for this “experiment”. Dump Leno and move on.

    • RJ

      Not at all funny I was glad to hear that he was leaving, only to hear 5 years later that he is not.

    • doon

      i agree.

  • Monique

    Definitely agree Ken Tucker. Actual talent/humor aside, what NBC is proposing sounds very smart.

    • Ally

      It’s not smart when they’re only doing this to keep Jay happy. It’s not like this is a brilliant idea NBC has been concocting for years. This is coming from the failure of Jay Leno’s show (because no one cares about him anymore).

      • Monique

        I would disagree with you that this change-up is all to make Jay happy. From what I understand, Jay is not happy with how this is playing out – especially in the press. Whether NBC planned this a while ago or not, is besides the point. It’s a good move for them to experiment and knock down Letterman any way they can.

      • Frank Anderson

        It is smart enough to have me considering watching late night tv for the first time in a long time.

        I think a shorter form show for Jay might be the only format he is bearable in. I don’t like his jokes, but I think he might be better in smaller doses.

      • Nathan

        Right… because their previous experiments have worked out so well.

      • Monique

        And what experiment are you even referring to? The one moving Jay to ten didn’t work, so what are they supposed to do? Jay, whether you love or hate him, routinely beat Letterman in ratings when they were against each other, something that Conan hasn’t done fast enough to appease the advertisors. So on a business standpoint – doing this “experiment” makes sense, and is very bold.
        So again, Nathan, exactly what would you do? And what previous late night experiment are you even referring to?

  • dbc

    I think a network HAS scheduled late night like this . . .ABC, Kimmel, anyone?

  • Harley

    Well, for a start, there’s no room for ‘sheer tonnage’ when you’re doing a half hour show. And how does that work? Monologue, one guest, one skit. And out. It’s an easy day’s work for Leno, but I’m not sure it will line up the way you suggest re Letterman. Dave’s beating Conan because more people want to watch him. The fact that Conan’s monologue will begin at a different time won’t change that. This is about preference, not timing.

    • @Harley

      Well you could also argue that Leno’s old 11:35pm audience did not like Conan, which is why Letterman’s doing better.
      It’s not like people suddenly “found” Letterman…..so with the option of Leno, I think much of Letterman’s audience will scurry back to NBC (at least for the first 30 mins)

      • junierizzle

        Or you could argue that Jay scared all the viewers away. When COnan comes on there is no one to watch.
        That’s the reason for this whole shake up. NBC should have just paid off Conan and let him stay in New YOrk, instead of being Leno’s B*tch.

  • Doug

    Puppets at 11:35! Come on Dave, retire!

    • Deena

      :D I’m with you!

    • Dave

      Craig Ferguson blows them all away!

      • LAS

        Agreed. Craig is the funniest of them all. Let the puppets take over late night!

      • toonaspie

        ^ Brilliant comment!!!

    • Tina

      lol finally some real talent on at 11:335 ;)

      • Tina


  • Shamrock

    Move Conan back to NY.

    • Joy Cooksey

      I have always thought that Conan’s sense of humor was more fitting to New York. Moving him to L.A. was like taking a fish out of water and wondering how long it will take him to learn to swim again or most likely, how long it will take him to die a slow and painful death. Be Kind NBC!

      • Shamrock

        I agree, he just never seemed to fit out there.

    • doon

      let jay go

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