NBC's Leno and Fallon Video, or How Not to Put Out a Fire (Opinion)
What the hell was the network thinking with this patently obvious publicity stunt to smooth over its late-night headache? Oh, right, it's NBC. There wasn't any thinking.
If you've watched the video NBC made of Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon talking -- and singing -- about how much they love each other and who cares what everyone's saying about the network's crazy late-night nightmare, you don't need to be told the backstory.
The assumption here is that you know all the angles. OK, then let's move forward with some failure analysis on why the video doesn't work and actually could hurt Fallon.
For starters, the video isn't funny. It's too long. Doesn't have an ounce of believability and plays like a clip from a Hallmark movie about lovers that's airing sometime soon on Bravo. And it makes Fallon look like simpering suck-up who sold out because he was probably told to.
If that was the goal -- congratulations, NBC, you nailed it.
If, on the other hand, it was done to use humor to cover up all of this negative attention about Leno possibly being ousted and Fallon taking his spot and moving the show back to New York, well, let's talk.
First, you have to understand that a late-night audience -- even Leno's late-night audience -- is savvy enough to know when it's being pandered to by the public relations department of a global media company. Have you people learned nothing from Tina Fey? Did you even watch 30 Rock? The only way you can mastermind a public relations stunt to either change public opinion or defuse a negative situation is to make a video that goes out of its way to be so blatantly bad in that attempt that said video becomes hilarious in its obviousness. It's about being in on the joke and being self-deprecating. This video was neither. But it was plenty of unfunny.
Next, was it intentional to make this video seem creepily sad and pathetic? Do you really think that people who don't like Leno -- say, the followers of David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel for starters -- could be made to feel sorry for him? Because that kind of decision-making speaks volumes about why you're in fourth place (or is it fifth now?).
People who love Jay are always going to love Jay. If they can read -- and hell, you showed them some of the media headlines in the video -- they know the rumor that Fallon is taking over. Was this targeted to that audience? Were you trying to have Leno tell them it's OK to love Fallon, too? Counter-intuitive, but you might get points for that. But people often misinterpret even basic concepts, so you also ran the risk of making people who love Jay aware that he's being ousted for Fallon, which wouldn't really help Fallon.
Let's amplify that idea: How does this in any way help Fallon? If prevailing wisdom is true -- that you want to get younger in late night as ABC is doing with Kimmel by switching to the younger and hipper Fallon -- why tie him to Leno at all? Leno is the past. And while it's perfectly fine for Fallon (or anyone, for that matter) to truly support Leno, having him swoon for the man might lead people to think what the hell Fallon sees in him, humor-wise? It also, perhaps inadvertently, sends the message that Leno is more powerful and he set this whole thing up and got the only late-night host who would say a good word about him to do just that. Inadvertently again, the clip could make people wonder if this is the kind of video stuff Fallon will do when he gets The Tonight Show. You know, that mass-appeal, dumbed-down stuff. Again, not a great idea.
OK, now quickly, shout out the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Fallon's strength as Late Night host? If you said, "great music," you win. He's got the best band in late night. He gets great musical guests. He does hilarious videos that are about music. Why, then, have him sing a Broadway tune with Leno? West Side Story? Is it only because the song is "Tonight?" Um, maybe too easy? Maybe not a great fit? It certainly doesn't scream "younger demo," now does it?
This video was the kind of thing they would have done on Smash. You know, before it was moved to Saturdays.
The bigger problem with the video is that it very easily could have been great. Think of how many big stars Kimmel gets for his videos. Think of the concepts. Hint: The stars are bigger, the production is better, and the concept is less broad, less Leno-y. It's not like there's a running clock on this PR issue. The damage was already there. To fix it, the video had to absolutely be hilarious. What you have in this clip is a rough draft on a cocktail napkin that reeks of something out of the PR department or just a bad executive idea nobody had the guts to reject. The video as presented is three good ideas removed from the one that should have been shot.