The NBC network is finally moving beyond its Conan O’Brien debacle, and is now reinvesting in Jay Leno as its Tonight Show host. This week, Leno unceremoniously wrapped-up his short-lived NBC prime time, variety show. Behind the scenes, NBC must be relieved to have the popular Jay Leno back in The Tonight Show seat.
However, the circumstances that led Jay Leno back to The Tonight Show might be exactly the same forces that will make him a failure of equal proportions. Leno’s personal brand has sustained considerable damage.
On March 1, Jay Leno returns to The Tonight Show. Yet, a recent TV Guide poll revealed that 69 percent of respondents expressed that they won’t watch Leno anymore. More specially: “An overwhelming 69 percent of voters in a TVGuide.com poll said they used to watch Jay Leno, but will not watch anymore after what happened to Conan O’Brien.”[more]
That could be a devastating blow to the strength of Jay Leno’s personal brand, which he has carefully crafted throughout decades in the business.
Leno has been diligent in distancing himself from culpability in the O’Brien and NBC feud. In fact, during the dust up, Leno collaborated with O’Brien in mocking NBC’s troubles. Then, a couple weeks ago, Leno went on Oprah Winfrey’s show to repair his reputation and plead his case, again trying to convince viewers he was not responsible. Reviews of his appearance were mixed.
These results, however, demonstrate that Leno was far from convincing. Even though the TV Guide poll isn’t exactly scientific or very comprehensive, it does indicate a significant level of ill will remains out there toward Leno – whether justified or not.
Clearly, this is ominous news for Leno and NBC. If ratings for The Tonight Show are down after the show debuts, again, this March, both Leno and NBC have to ask each other: What, or who, is next?