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?
Karen Swim says
Hi Annie, you echo what I feel. I also do not watch any of the late night shows but your focus on “grace” is absolutely needed. Since I posted this, Conan is leaving the network and Leno is going back to the Tonight Show. While, none of the players will be hurt financially I find the whole thing undignified. Jay Leno retired, agreed to try something new and it failed. He should have moved on or moved to the later time slot rather than taking his job back from Conan. Doesn’t leave me with a good opinion of NBC execs.
.-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..The Marketing of Human Suffering =-.
I am not a fan of late night talk shows but when I heard Leno was moving, his choice, I had a feeling it would not work out. When the announcement was made that the show was not succeeding, I was not surprised at all. Unfortunately, Jay made the choice and it would be so much better if he either walked away with dignity while elegantly passing the torch or was slotted in the later time slot after Conan.
As for passing the torch, when I have left previous jobs, I have graciously trained the incoming person and made the choice to be there for them. I have also realized I may be indespensible to a company but I am also replaceable. And when the time comes, whether my choice or not, to leave, I need to do it graciously in order to maintain my integrity and open the door for the incoming person to have a chance to succeed.
.-= Annie´s last blog ..Unsightly =-.
Karen Swim says
@Fred, that is such a great point! It can be tough to let go when you have invested so much of yourself. You want to protect your legacy and not see your good work undone. Good reminder that our goal should not be to build monuments with our work but to give in the moment what is needed focused on continued growth.
@Wendi “planning ahead, training, follow through and no looking back.” That is the best succession plan I’ve seen and I agree!
Wendi Kelly~Life's Little Inspirations says
Passed the torch myself after being the President of our Home Association for so many years I’ve lost track. Handed it our VP with a vote of confidence and a smile and took my seat at the back of the room, not the front. If she needs me she can call. But I doubt she will need me, we transitioned over a nice slow two year period and I had every confidence she knew everything she needed to know.
I think part of the trick is in planning ahead…and then training, then follow through,…and then…when it’s time-it’s time. No looking back.
Fred H Schlegel says
Hi Karen, In addition to stepping away you have to give up feeling responsible for the previous enterprise, which is a tough thing to do. But when your done your done. The decisions are for others. (And if you didn’t feel that way then ya shouldn’t have left in the first place….)
.-= Fred H Schlegel´s last blog ..Parking, Romance and Cafe Pazzo =-.
Karen Swim says
@Brad, I completely agree! Those great shows were a once per week treat for the entire family, every night would have been a failure. NBC tried the cheap programming route and it failed miserably. Viewing habits do not change so easily and they could not compete against great dramas on at that time. Proof that cheap can be costly.
@Robert, churches are an excellent example! At my last church I watched it handled with extreme grace with public mentoring and support of the new Pastor well in advance of retirement. Excellent points Robert!
@Conor, I love what you said about preparation and trust, that truly is the secret isn’t it? I am not surprised at how well you’re handling the transition, you really have such a great attitude and are honorable in all that you do. I’d love to hear the part 2 when it happens, don’t forget to share! 🙂
I’m about the pass a torch in the coming months. I will be handing over a college club I founded in 2001 and have coached in for the past two years to a very worthy replacement.
I will have no problem handing over the reins as I trust and believe in him and he has proven himself many times in the past. However, I won’t be fully content until I have prepared him in doing the day to day admin.
I think that’s what it boils down to, preparation and trust. If you prepare your replacement adequately and trust and believe in their abilities in the role, you can smile and let go easily.
The end of one era is always the start of another. I can’t wait!
Robert Hruzek says
I’ve witnessed a few “baton passes” in churches where the former Pastor retired, then sat in the front row as the new Pastor began his ministry. Not a good way to start off someone new, I’ll tell ya!
Better to have the outgoing person do something completely separate (and preferably, somewhere else!).
.-= Robert Hruzek´s last blog ..Baggage =-.
Brad Shorr says
Hi Karen, I’ve never passed a torch really, but observed it happening a few times. Some torch passers go kicking and screaming, while others can’t wait to get out of the race. In this case, I thought the network was taking an enormous chance with the new Leno show. I’m all for experimentation, but has NBC ever heard of a laboratory? M-F prime time is not a lab. Can you recall the great variety shows of the past – Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, etc.? Do you think even those shows could have held an audience 5 nights a week? I doubt it. Seems to me the NBC execs had a God complex or need a few years of strategy counseling.
.-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Tight Title Tags Attract Twitter Traffic =-.