If Conan O'Brien Really Wants to Mess Up NBC, He'll Stay Put

(UPDATE: Conan has spoken. He will not agree to starting "The Tonight Show" at 12:05 p.m. In a statement released on Tuesday, he said: "My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard, and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of 'The Tonight Show.' But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.")

Ironically enough, the best thing that can happen to NBC right now is for it to piss off Conan O'Brien so much that he does, in fact, leave the network. (Rumor has it that he may decamp for Fox, so it looks like the network is succeeding ... at something.) The reason is that even as much of the TV world focuses on the decision to resurrect the primetime schedule and cancel the 10 p.m. "Jay Leno Show," if NBC's plan to save both Leno and O'Brien happens, it will have made the same mistake twice, by making big changes to its schedule using reasoning that has nothing to do with viewers.

The only reason for the network to even consider moving Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" to 12:05 p.m. is to fulfill O'Brien's contract. Viewers long ago voted with their remotes -- the person they want to see at 11:35 is Jay Leno, for an hour, on "The Tonight Show." It's hard to even picture what would be accomplished in a half-hour of comedy programming at 11:35, and further transitioning viewers to O'Brien, and then to "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon"is too herky-jerky for it to serve either Leno, or O'Brien, or Fallon well.

If you look back at the experiment that was "The Jay Leno Show," NBC made the same mistake; it thought about its schedule in term of bottom-line considerations without realizing its business ultimately relies on viewers. Just as viewers weren't in the mood for comedy at 10 p.m., they won't be in the mood to transition out of Jay Leno at 12:05 p.m., so that NBC can make good on its contractual obligations to O'Brien.

Go Conan, go! Unless you want to further mess up NBC. Actually, maybe after all this the thought is tempting. (Picture of Conan contract game courtesy of TMZ.)

Previous coverage of "The Jay Leno Experiment" at BNET Media: