January 14, 2010
Who are the Jews involved in NBC’s late night mess?
Right now, the executive offices at NBC Universal look like this: A whole bunch of Jews arguing.
The latest report in the dispute between Conan O’Brien and NBCU over the “Tonight Show” timeslot change pits some of Hollywood’s top Jewish talent—and top Jewish egos—against one another.
At the top of totem pole is Jeff Zucker, the arrogant NBC chief who’s clinging to his pride—and his post—by a thread. It was Zucker’s idea to move a “retiring” Jay Leno from his number one spot at “The Tonight Show” to primetime, and to promote Conan O’Brien to the coveted 11:35 p.m. spot in order to bolster the network’s dismal ratings. The gamble failed, and now, Zucker is desperate to pawn off the blame.
But at an important meeting at NBC last Tuesday, Zucker didn’t bother to show up. Instead he sent his underlings, Jeff Gaspin and Marc Graboff, co-chairs of NBC Entertainment, to negotiate with “Team Conan.” Gaspin, whom the Jewish Television Network honored in 2008, presides over programming, and Graboff, a native Angeleno and member of Stephen S. Wise Temple heads business affairs.
Zucker phoned it in from New York.
That’s probably because he didn’t want to face stalwart litigator Patty Glaser, whose frequent description as a “pitbull” is used affectionately. Glaser, whom I interviewed last August, is representing Conan O’Brien, along with his William Morris Endeavor agent, Gavin Palone, whom Nikki Finke called “a rabid dog” and WME board member Rick Rosen. According to Finke, Ari Emanuel did not attend, but with Glaser in the room, his infamous negotiating powers are hardly necessary.
If rabbinic tradition is any precedent, these negotiations could go on forever. The network could stick to its guns in a blazing display of hubris; Glaser could threaten a lawsuit that (with her fees) could cripple NBC way beyond the payouts it would owe Conan or Leno for breach of contract. According to Finke, canceling Conan would cost the network $60 million and canceling Leno would cost $80 million.
With some of the best Jewish minds in the industry at work, one might hope for an honorable outcome—or even reconciliation. But asking Hollywood to put business ethics ahead of its own bottom line is anathema. This is a town so obsessed with money, it has no real measure of what anything – or anyone – is really worth.
More on the Hollywood players embroiled in the late night controversy: