Thursday 21 November 2019

Conan the casualty in American TV wars, but $45m will help heal wounds

Rupert Cornwell in Washington

IT LASTED less than a fortnight, but boy was it fun: the most hilarious, the most vicious, quite simply the biggest debacle in the recent history of US television entertainment, with talcum powder flying by the bucketful. But, sadly for everyone except NBC, America's latest late night follies are over.

The network has announced a $45m (€31m) settlement with Conan O'Brien, the prematurely departing host of 'The Tonight Show', after less than eight months in the job. From March 1, what used to be the most coveted chair on late-night television will again by occupied by Jay Leno, who held the job for 17 years before moving on to what were meant to be even better things.

Alas, it didn't quite work out like that. Leno's move from the traditional 11.35pm slot to a new prime-time show that aired at 10pm every weeknight was supposed to save NBC a fortune, replacing traditional and expensive drama by a talk show that cost far less.

But in television, as in life, you get what you pay for. Ratings for Leno tumbled -- a limp lead-in that dragged down audiences for the 11pm news shows that are the bread-and-butter of its affiliate stations.

As for O'Brien, finally in the job he had hungered after for a decade, his viewership was awful too, barely half the five million drawn by Leno. He is taking the money, $33m (€23m) for him, $12m (€8m) for his staff, and exiting stage left.

Irish Independent

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