It's just that on paper, NBC wasn't counting on Leno averaging 29% fewer viewers than last season, which was pretty anemic itself.
NBC wasn't counting on its affiliates getting rebellious over having a much smaller pool of viewers delivered to the late-night local newscasts.
Finally, NBC wasn't counting on Conan losing 2 million of Leno's viewers, wiping out the lead Leno held for years over CBS' David Letterman.
IPBiz had analogized "Leno at 10" to IBM's "wall of patents" strategy in the post
NBC "10 pm" and IBM "wall of patents": similar strategies? , NBC knew that Leno would attract fewer viewers than "dramatic" programming at 10pm, but argued that the net benefit (decreased costs vs. decreased revenue) would be favorable. If NBC switches back, one suspects it wasn't.
One divergence in the patent strategy analogy is that in the "application backlog" chokepoint at the Patent Office, the guy filing a thousand applications a year is going to get some issued, in order to advance the "10 pm" strategy, but the "little guy" whose 1 or 2 patent applications are held up is not going to get any "air time" to compete. NBC failed because the public could see, and vote, as to the competition. When the patent office doesn't review the patent applications of the little guy, the public never knows what it is missing. It's merely opportunity lost when the incrementalist applications drown out the game changers.
As to Hinckley, there were some other IP related lines:
For months last year, NBC confidently declared that moving Leno to 10, and wiping out all scripted drama in that prime-time hour, was not foolhardy but visionary.
It would give NBC cheaper, proven alternative prime-time programming, network executives said. Bumping Conan O'Brien into Leno's old 11:35 p.m. "Tonight" slot would bring a new generation of hip, young folks to NBC.
It was sold as a win-win, and NBC did everything short of asserting that rival network execs who laughed at this plan were just jealous they hadn't thought of it first.