Mark Cuban goes on a tear over at Paid Content about the flip-flop on Jay Leno's primetime show at NBC. His contention is that NBC Universal CEO, Jeff Zucker, was bold and absolutely right to experiment moving Leno to the 10:00 p.m. slot and the world would be a better place if more people - notably corporate executive types of people - were like Mr. Zucker.
That's worth agreeing with, although Mark Cuban seems fine with the fact that Jeff Zucker has quickly bailed on the experiment and will return everything to before, minus Conan O'Brien, who, it seems, will be a casualty. Cuban's got some colorful gambling metaphors in his Paid Content piece (which won't get repeated here as this is a family friendly blog) implying he applauds Zucker for also knowing when to fold 'em. The smoke is clearly rising at NBC, however, and the cost of ushering Mr. O'Brien off the set and out the door is going to be $40 million according to the Wall Street Journal today. That's a lot to pay to step away from the table.
I don't know anything about TV programming and so the signs that Jay Leno's primetime effort was doomed to fail may have been obvious to everyone inside the organization. Maybe. But, what's been nagging at me over the course of this real life TV reality show are memories that Leno took a long time to get traction when he took over "The Tonight Show" from Johnny Carson. Back in 1992 nerves were just as raw, to the extent that David Letterman stormed off to CBS where he thumped Jay Leno in the late-night ratings for two or three years. Leno recovered and held the lead until his "retirement."
Hence a nagging feeling that Jeff Zucker's bold moves have not been given enough time. There is not a single, common prescriptive for developing a media audience on TV, or anywhere, except patience. Content has to be good, but one person's good will be another person's bad as loyal viewers of "Late Night with David Letterman" or "The Tonight Show" will tell you. Audiences are not quick to embrace change and loyalties run deep.
In the same report, The Journal quotes Jeff Zucker from earlier in the year cautioning observers that Leno's switch to primetime would be a "marathon, not a sprint." It may be that the world - specifically the media world - needs more of that kind of Jeff Zucker.