Big TV programming moves from one network to another seem to be few and far between.
The irony was that Fox was on the wrong end of this move. The fact that Fox didn't go after O'Brien -- or was hesitant -- didn't seem very Rupert Murdoch-like. In the 1990s, Murdoch made perhaps the boldest move ever in getting the NFL. As legend has it, he made that decision on the back of a paper napkin.
It was a bold decision because it was made without thinking about price. And things didn't look good financially at the outset. At one point News Corp. took nearly a billion dollar write-down because of fees that went to the NFL (as well as other sports such as Major League Baseball and Nascar).
But the decision put Fox on the TV programming map once and for all, giving Fox affiliates confidence and making competitors second-guess themselves.
And Fox went on to become the dominant TV network among 18-49 viewers -- key for big consumer product marketers.
The last big TV program franchise move was The Weinstein Company's decision over a year ago -- clumsily executed and resulting in a high-profile legal battle -- to take "Project Runway" from NBC Universal's Bravo and move it to Disney-ABC Television's Lifetime.
Back in 1993, David Letterman's move to CBS seemed like a big deal, but it was only a consequence of NBC's decision to give Jay Leno "The Tonight Show." Since then there have been some minor programming shifts: ABC's taking "Scrubs" from NBC; CBS taking "Medium" from NBC. USA Network, Spike, CW, and MyNetwork TV have been shuffling the WWE Entertainment wrestling franchise around for some time.
Sports aside, networks are less inclined to make these big glaring decisions. For the most part, viewers identify shows with networks, Existing networks get the right of first refusal when programming contracts expire. They don't want to give the competition any edge, especially when cast-offs could come back to haunt them.
Don't think so? NBC wanted to keep Letterman and Leno the first time around, giving Leno the lead position, hoping to keep Letterman as a back-up. Seventeen years later it wanted to do the same thing with O'Brien and Leno. Hoarding talent and programming isn't the most honorable business decision. But what's the downside for trying?
Don't worry. ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" isn't going anywhere. CBS's "Survivor" is staying put, and so is its up-and-coming "Big Bang Theory." But what about some lesser-rated, on-the-bubble shows?
The increased fractionalization of TV viewers mean a thinner line between success and failure. No one wants to make a mistake. More than that, no one wants to give the competition their mistakes -- or their under performers, which could bite them back.
Of course, giving a cable competitor your mistake might not be so bad. Take a guess who, besides TBS, may have a reason to smile.