Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Drop the Tonight Show name.


Sometimes a name is just a name, and sometimes it means more.

Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show for thirty years, until he no longer wanted to do so. Then Jay Leno hosted the show from 1992 until last week. He had no plans to retire, but NBC wanted to give the Tonight Show to Conan O'Brien. It appears that they were more worried about Conan leaving the network than they were about losing Jay Leno.

David Letterman used to be in the Conan O'Brien position of having his show right after the Tonight Show. Letterman wanted to become the new host of the show when Johnny Carson was going to retire. Since he did not get the Tonight Show, Letterman skipped town to CBS, developed his own show, and has earned more money per season than Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien.

Unlike David Letterman, Jay Leno is not leaving NBC. Instead, he will have a show on at 10 pm that will be followed by the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.

Let me just ask this. What is the big deal with the name the "Tonight Show"? Is there anything really that special about the name that would drive David Letterman to another network or to make Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien play musical chairs with their time slots?

I think that there was some prestige related to the name. When Johnny Carson hosted the show, it was the premiere show. David Letterman was the follow-up person. I guess Letterman didn't want to follow-up Jay Leno and I cannot fault him for that. But now, there are so many competing shows. I don't think that the name "Tonight Show" should be that big of a deal anymore. During most of the years that Johnny Carson was on television, families did not have cable television. I know my own family got cable in the mid 1980s. When there were only three or four main channels, people did not have many options of what they would watch at 11 pm. Now the “Tonight Show” has a number of shows competing at the same time.

Is the fact that Conan O'Brien will now have the Tonight Show actually give him some big advantage? Will they put more money into his show than before? Is his show going to be different at all?

Will Jay Leno's show be any different either?

People watch shows for the host and the jokes. The fact that they took the Tonight Show away from Jay Leno and gave it to Conan O'Brien makes me think that focus on the name should not be important.

I think that after Conan O'Brien retires (or has someone take his show from him before he retires), they should just drop the Tonight Show name. Conan O’Brien is very talented. I don’t think having the Tonight Show name will improve his ability to entertain audiences. I have too much faith in his talent and the talent of Jay Leno to expect their talent to change with the addition or subtraction of the Tonight Show name.

I hope that Jay Leno's show is as good as his old one. I hope that Conan O'Brien's show is has good as his old one as well.

I think that David Letterman got it right. Have your own show with your own name, own the rights to it, and make more money.

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