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Conan O'Brien Is Making the Wrong Argument to NBC


Time slots matter less in 2010.

In an industry rife with backstabbing, budget slashing, and schedule shuffling, Conan O'Brien has displayed a level of sophistication and class rarely seen anymore -- in Hollywood or otherwise.

Playing host to The Tonight Show for seven short months, Conan has demonstrated more respect and reverence to his cherished show with one letter than his bosses or even his predecessor have shown during this entire debacle. With the publication of his letter -- outlining his refusal to be mistreated, his disappointment with the management, and his sympathy to his staff -- Conan rightfully earned the support of his fans and the admiration of his peers.

However, in his defense of The Tonight Show's history and his subtle admonishment of NBC (GE), Conan corralled all the inexcusable missteps made by the network into a single argument: It wouldn't be the same show at 12:05.

With all due respect toward Conan and his commendable choice, is that the right argument to make in 2010?

Granted, The Tonight Show has a legacy unmatched in its late night field -- a rank undeniably attributed to Johnny Carson. Not only were his dry wit and entertaining interviews beloved by millions, it was Carson's insistence to keep the program at 11:30 p.m. after the local news, where it has remained -- save a five-minute shift to 11:35 -- for almost 50 years.

To move it from that firm time slot would be unthinkable in the '70s, '80s, even through the '90s. But in 2010, watching a show live on television and without any time shifting device is almost a novelty.

Not unlike the majority of TV programming, The Tonight Show can be viewed in a wide variety of ways -- all of which defy its historical time slot. TiVo (TIVO), YouTube (GOOG),, BitTorrent, and Hulu -- which is backed by NBC, Fox (NWS), and ABC (DIS) -- make staying up and risking a good night's rest obsolete. Don't care for a celebrity guest? Skip ahead. Missed Andy Richter's quip? Jump back a few seconds. Bathroom break? Pause.

Without a programmed VCR and an entire wing devoted to spare cassettes, that wasn't possible with Johnny.

Even looking at it from a scheduling standpoint, shows aren't defined by their time slots anymore. When The Simpsons moved from Thursdays to Sundays, was it still The Simpsons? When Saturday Night Live aired live specials midweek during the 2008 presidential race and ended the cold opens with the standard "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night," was it still essentially Saturday Night Live?
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