Jay Leno hosted daily nighttime talk show, The Tonight Show for 17 years. Like previous hosts before him, he retired and passed the torch on to a successor, Conan O’Brien. There was however, a twist. Leno was not going to retire to a life of leisure and golf but to a nightly hour long variety show that would air 1 1/2 hours before his “old show.” NBC thought that Leno’s new show was a bold move that would change the 10 pm viewing hour instead a mere 4 months into the new show, it is being pulled.
The latest news is that Leno’s show will be revamped as a half hour show that will air at 11:35 pm, and The Tonight Show will move to 12:05. I have a feeling that someone at NBC will be in the job market very soon.
The Leno/Tonight Show saga is not unlike what happens in corporations. Fresh talent and new leadership is brought in but the old regime does not step aside to let them build their audience. NBC falsely assumed that the popular Leno could usher in a new format in the final primetime hour. The network would have a much cheaper show to produce and would leverage Leno’s brand to win viewers. Poor Conan O’Brien never had the opportunity to rise or fall on his own merits. He was given the spotlight and then left to meander in the shadow of the former host.
Passing the torch cannot be a half-hearted move. You must make the change and stand by it allowing the new team to make the “show” their own. They may fail as they find their way but you guarantee their failure when you hamstring them from having their moment to try.
When it’s time to step aside, pass the torch graciously and then get out of the way. The new team will not do things in the same way or make the same decisions, but isn’t that the point? A great leader not only knows when to step up but when to step down.
Have you ever had to pass the torch? Was it difficult to hand over the reins?