NBC, are you with Coco… or not?

NBC-WithCocoWell, there you have it… the drama NBC primetime has been missing. Another rendition of The Biggest Loser—without the skyrocketing Nielsen ratings or the fab new body, that is.

We now know that the experiment by NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker to move Jay Leno from a successful, lucrative late-night time slot to a one-hour primetime one normally dedicated to drama was a mistake. The related financial gamble—that the cheaper cost of producing talk programming would outweigh any potential drop in ad revenues—was a bust, too. And what about the drop in audience numbers? Simply put, it appears that Zucker was wrong on many levels, and those questionable calls have cost the already bleeding network quite a lot of money.

(On a somewhat related note, I caught some of the Wall Street Barons testifying yesterday, and with regard to risk management, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon commented that they never stress-tested the idea that housing costs would ever stop rising or fall 40%. Never tested that business model’s viability from a consumer perspective? Really? Hmm. But I digress.)

NBC chairman Jeff Gaspin admitted on Sunday that the [Leno/O’Brien] “solution”–the proposed quick fix to give Leno his old 11:35pm slot back and bump Conan and The Tonight Show to 12:05am–was, in fact, a compromise that wasn’t to either Leno’s or O’Brien’s satisfaction. Indeed, NBC execs privately wondered whether they had damaged all three brands—Leno, O’Brien, and The Tonight Show—in the process. No doubt a few of the mentioned icons (NBC included) will take some sort of brand slap, but as in our Wall Street scenario, we won’t know the extent of the damage until the whole story plays out. But I’m betting that whether O’Brien––or should I call him “Coco”?––retains the 11:35pm slot or not, he’s a winner, Mr. Gaspin (or can I call you Jeff?).

In a few short days, the Internet has gone frantic with support for O’Brien. When I last checked, L.A.-based designer Mike Mitchell’s “I’m with Coco” effort (reminiscent of the Shepard Fairey Obama “art” movement) had close to 80,000 fans. What’s to be gleaned? The generation that embraces Facebook, Twitter and YouTube embraces O’Brien. Yes, there’s an inherent need to preserve an institutional brand like The Tonight Show, but it’s also about letting the show and its brand evolve into the future by connecting with audiences. And social media, acting as a stress test of sorts, strongly indicates that O’Brien is connecting with audiences via new media, much like Obama did. So, Mr. Gaspin. Jeff. Please tell us that you and NBC see this trend and will consider it as part of the programming mix? Perhaps before some other misfire happens (moving 30 Rock and The Office to Friday at 2pm maybe?) and all hell really breaks loose.

Filed: boys, branding, entertainment

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