People of earth:
I always thought that the television networks used OR/MS to manage the uncertainties inherent in running a television network. Now I’m not so sure.
I have been following the late night changes with the Late Show. Last week, NBC announced that they are moving Jay Leno’s prime time show (that airs at 10pm) to 11:35pm by moving the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien from 11:35pm to 12:05pm. In response, Conan O’Brien announced that he will quit if his show is moved from 11:35pm to 12:05pm, and a deal is in the works for Conan to leave NBC.
There are two aspects of NBC’s move make me uncomfortable. The first is that NBC was seemingly unprepared for the the uncertainty surrounding Leno’s primetime experiment. I find it hard to believe that radically changing the late night schedule was the best contingency plan NBC could have formulated. It is particularly puzzling, since uncertainty is a large party of television programming. After all, most new shows are not picked up for season-long contracts. How could NBC be caught so off guard? To be fair, prime time shows switch time slots frequently, whereas the scheduling in late night are effectively set in stone, so the expectations are different. The fact that NBC lags in ratings is a symptom that they are not handling uncertainties well. I expected NBC to have used more advanced analytical methods to plan for these uncertainties.
My second concern deals with the ethics of such a decision. Maybe ethics is the wrong word here, since NBC may be legally justified in moving the Tonight Show. However, it is not the right thing to do. The option to change O’Brien’s time slot should have been immediately ruled out as an infeasible alternative. The ethical concerns weigh on me as a professor. The academic analog of the NBC-Conan-Leno fiasco are troubling (my take: NBC is the unethical professor and O’Brien is the bewildered graduate student whose expectations have abruptly changed, and Leno is a graduate student who is benefiting at O’Brien’s expense). In my opinion, students should not be punished because they have not been given clear expectations. Instead, professors should tell students what they expect. As a result, I strive to convey my expectations for students–particularly student researchers–because students and professors should be on the same page.
Bottom line: despite what was in O’Brien’s contract, NBC should have laid out their expectations more clearly before making any big changes in his show, since the expectation was clearly not to change the time slot.
To be honest, I don’t have all of the facts, or even most of them. As a result, it’s hard to say how OR could have been used to manage some of the uncertainties and to make better decisions. Maybe it’s presumptuous for me to rush to judgment, but it is clear that something is rotten in the state of late night decision-making at NBC. What do you think?