Can You Ever Have Your Cake And Eat it Too?

Y’know, those old folk sayings– corny, trite, hooked in yesteryear? They last for a reason. They put the finger on an enduring human truth. Here’s the above adage about greed being played out today in a 3D media frenzy.

Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien were the cakes and NBC was the greedy and ill-fated owner/consumer.

How did they get into such a mess?  It started with evaluating their once and future audiences. “Jay’s OK now but 5 years from now? Gotta move the older guy and advance a younger one to capture those 18-49ers. (the prime TV market targets).”

NBC decides “We can have it all. Let’s make Conan the Prince of Wales. Then, owning Leno, we let the king slowly peter out and slip Conan right onto that throne, not missing a beat. And we even keep Leno too, in a new time slot. We can have it all (the cake, that is)!” So what happened? Jay kept doing fine with his mixed-age market. Conan fit in with his slotted audience too, but not with the other one.

The cake-eaters in the front office ate too much too fast. TV watchers knew what they liked. And didn’t. Leno and O’Brien fit into people’s needs exactly where they were. And those prophets in the front office? They need to borrow from another adage–“pull their heads out of the sand.”  Then go downstairs and find out how folks really think and act.  And boy, have they got the generations all wrong! More about them next time.


6 thoughts on “Can You Ever Have Your Cake And Eat it Too?

  1. Sonya – You always have your finger on the pulse beat: you transcend “generational categorization” in your understanding of what makes people tick. Brava, brilliant one! I look forward to seeing more posts on your blog. – Nadine, President, beCause Global Consulting

  2. Hi Sonya, thanks for the heads up about your blog -as we say down under “good on ya mate!” I look forward to reading more.

  3. Great job. NBC obviously never heard the adage
    “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Their troubled ratings compelled them to take what worked and rework it instead of looking at what was broken and fixing that. As for the ageism implicit in their decision, what else is new? Where we stand now is as follows: Jay, who was squeezed out of his slot with high ratings has become the villain. Conan, who was promised the Tonight Show, if he hung in for 5 years is the victim and I predict that Jay’s former great ratings will be compromised. Anyone who has ever worked in TV, won’t find these ridiculous decisions surprising.

  4. Sonya the ultimate goal that drove their strategy was actually the hot fudge sundae–which was
    to dramatically reduce their costs in Prime Time.
    Putting Jay in at 10, had it worked, would have eliminate the costs of scripted programming. All those writers, producers, actors etc. That was the intended prize. They assumed the other pieces would fall into place.
    Jeff Zucker , the architect of all this, took a very big risk and upended the whole network–and failed spectacularly.
    I will be fascinated to see if he can survive.

  5. Yes, Sonya, you nailed it.

    The NBC/Tonight Show media mess has been like watching an out of control cake eating competition — where it appears that the only prize is getting hit in the face with a meringue flavored brick. And not the tasty kind.

    First, in the interest of full disclosure, my heart goes out to those who toil behind the scenery ( as the daughter of a 50 year Local #1 IATSE union man… how could it not ?). From where I sit, those behind the camera and in the booth, will be most affected by NBC management’s major misstep, and its gross mishandling of the resolution.

    Having said that, I did see one bright spot: Conan’s foresight to fold a degree of financial protection for his staff into the ingredients of his negotiation of a golden parachute confection. Plus, the savvy to make sure that fact was made public.

    In my view, Conan adhered to the first rule of solid media management; he quickly got ahead of the story, then embraced and smoothly manipulated the public’s positive feedback. Appears that Jay needs to work on his technique. I hear he’s going on Oprah soon. Who knows? Might help. Couldn’t hurt.

    The network’s objective — always: bottom line/ratings (“ How many cakes did we sell today ?” ….“Is there a way we can cut back on ingredients to improve profit margin?”). No real surprise there.

    While there’s nothing wrong, or new, about taking calculated risks, a well considered “Plan B” would have been of real value here. One that envisioned the real possibility of non-success and attendant media fallout ( “Oh, dear, the cake fell, the guests are already ringing the doorbell, WHAT WILL WE DO??!”) , as well as taking into consideration the potential effect on those who put the actual “create” in the creative process (“ How shall we frost the cake?” “ What flavor filling is yummiest?”) .

    Yes, Jeff Zucker’s strategy failed spectacularly. Happens. Anyone regularly involved in this form of creative enterprise will always be up against it, trying to keep their affiliates/sponsors happy. But, personally, I must protest when that includes holding those of us “aging” viewers hostage in the process.

    Of course the national media jumped on this. If only to feed it’s own appetite for self-promotion ( “My cake has more tiers than yours, and tastes better, too !”).

    And while Zucker fiddled, info-tainment and print media worked hard to inflate all the characters
    ( Leno, O’Brien, their late-night competitors, even Zucker himself) into caricatures – kind of like those Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons; and they will, just as quickly, deflate them. Expertly timed to fall in formation and quick-step-march to non-stop coverage of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. After all, those ravenous sports fans
    ( and the advertisers feeding off them) will soon be pushing for their turn at the dessert cart, eh?

    Sure. Nothing like a downhill racing drug scandal, or a triple axel jump to “Gold,” garnished with first time fame and future endorsements to fill viewing ( listening and maybe even reading) time, and the opportunity to prey upon the ever shifting appetite/attention span of the more youthful demographic — until it’s time for the next tasting ( cake? cookies? pie? Tiger Woods by the tail? Branjelina adopts every child in Haiti?)

    This may be why I find myself choosing to watch the Nature Channel. There, I know for sure who is predator and who is prey. And while there may be vicious fighting for dominance, survival, and the biggest portion of the kill… no cake is involved. And I, as viewer, remain free.

    Will Jeff Zucker survive? ( @ Francine, I, too, always find that aspect of these kinds of messes fascinating). And, if not, there’s always the fail safe recipe: re-invention; or rehab.

    Thanks, Sonya, for an opportunity to offer my spin on the situation.

    Looking forward, with relish, to your future commentary on what’s happening inside, and out, of media.

    Lorraine ( “ I see connections where others merely see…”©)*

  6. Sonya, congratulations on your Blog. You’re in the right technology with the right skill. After all, the ability to communicate is still the top skill necessary to motivate others and to get ahead. This is evidenced by President Obama’s brilliant State of the Union speech, and Scott Brown’s unlikely winning of the Massachusetts “Kennedy senate seat.” Martha Coakley needed you. The world is still based on relationship building, and we are a perfect example of how it works. Irma

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