One thing's clear about NBC's Leno-Conan musical chairs fiasco: there's
a lot of blame to go around. At the outset, Conan fans attacked Leno
for muscling out
their ginger-haired icon. Then business writers laid the blame
on NBC's looming merger with Comcast. But now, the chattering classes
have begun tarring and feathering NBC's president and CEO Jeff Zucker.
Does he deserve the harsh criticism? His detractors say his
questionable rise and myopic business sense have brought down the
- How Did He Become CEO? asks a bewildered Ron Grover
at BusinessWeek: "The irony is that Zucker rose to the top at NBC on
the basis of a
prime time schedule that frankly stunk. The numbers of new shows that
were created while he headed the prime time unit is few - in fact, I
can think of just one, The Office, and that one was a British import.
Somehow Zucker never got tarred with the failure. Instead, he got
the top job, and got out while the getting was good. (Of course, he did
hire Ben Silverman before moving upstairs, and Silverman never really
found his way to a hit, either).
- Had Flawed Business Notions, writes Mark Harris at New York Magazine: "Zucker was so intent on the cost-per-hour benefit to NBC that he failed
to anticipate the collateral damage...Leno, Zucker explained, would provide 92 weeks of original programming
over two years for a small fraction of what it costs to produce and
license scripted dramas... Preemptively redefining success downward, NBC
let it be known that a barely detectable 1.5 rating among
18-to-49-year-olds (meaning consistent last-place finishes) would be an
occasion for boardroom high fives."
- A Serial Failure, writes Maureen Dowd
at The New York Times: "First he killed comedy, losing the
NBC franchise of Thursday night 'Must See TV,' where 'Seinfeld,'
'Friends' and 'Will & Grace' once hilariously reigned; then he
killed drama, failing to develop successors to the formidable 'ER,'
'West Wing,' and 'Law & Order'; then he killed the 10 o'clock hour
by putting Jay Leno on at a time when people expect to be told a story;
and then he killed late night by putting on a quirky redhead who did
not have the bland mass-market appeal of Leno and who couldn't compete
with the peerless late-night comedian NBC had stupidly lost 16 years
ago, David Letterman."
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
jhudson at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.