When I first started writing this blog, I was hoping I would get some questions to answer, and today I got my first request. My friend Tony wanted to know what I thought about the whole Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno thing over at NBC, so I will tell you what I think. Also, this will be a good test to see if Tony does actually read this like he claims he does.
To start things off, I’ll just put it out there that I’m Team Conan all the way. I think he’s funny, quirky, and likable. I enjoy his weirdness and I think that – from what I’ve seen – late night television is moving in a direction that makes it far less generic and allows for a quirky host to run a successful television franchise. (For a good summary of the whole situation and the attractions and whatnot of Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno, you should check out “Conan Forever” by Mary Elizabeth Willams at Salon.) I’m not a regular viewer of The Tonight Show or a former regular viewer of Late Night With Conan O’Brien, but I’ve caught the show when I’ve been awake to see it and my brother’s always been a fan of, well, basically everything Conan O’Brien’s done. (I’m also an fan of the O’Brien oeuvre, but while I like to sleep at night, I think my brother started watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien in high school, which combined with having to get up to go to high school makes for a dedicated fan base.) But I have been paying a lot of attention to what’s been going on this week and I’ve never, ever found Jay Leno funny. So, I think I can handle Tony’s request in a responsible manner. And I’ll talk about what I think is going on in bit, but first:
Ah, that just cracks me up. Anyway, here’s my take on the whole thing: While this is probably one of the more minor issues in the world right now, the late-night television debacle (because that’s what it is) has created an interesting conversation surrounding the value of the late-night talk show. First, Conan O’Brien made a slick as hell move when he defined the The Tonight Show as a cultural institution in his open letter to the People of Earth and extended that definition to include the traditional time-slot for the show. Then, he talked about how hosting whatever it was that NBC wanted him to host at 12:05 was clearly not The Tonight Show and he would be having none of that. Brilliant. I should use that letter as an example of a well-crafted argument in my comp classes.
But back to the matter at hand. What’s also happened is that most of the hosts who aren’t Jay Leno have spent the week basically presenting themselves as an community of competitors who are extremely annoyed that a network would interfere with the natural order of things by moving backwards instead of forwards (old host leaves, new host starts, old host comes back like a zombie). Also, it’s become clear that most comedians respect/kinda like/can sympathize with Conan O’Brien while most people do not like Jay Leno. A really, really good rundown of what’s been going on can be found in Gawker TV‘s “Video Highlights from the Late Night War Between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno.” I highly recommend watching the clip of Jimmy Kimmel doing “10 at 10” with Jay Leno on The Jay Leno Show the night after Kimmel did his entire show as Jay Leno. If some good has come out of all this, it has been in showcasing the fact that Kimmel has absolutely no fear. (And as for the comedians who said nothing, I’m looking at you Jimmy Fallon. F- in standing up for yourself.)
As for my prediction about how things are going to turn out, I think it’s pretty clear that regardless of what happens this week, Conan O’Brien and NBC are going to part ways. And I think that was pretty clear on Tuesday, two days into O’Brien’s bridge-burning. The best way I can understand what has been going on is to put it in relationship terms. Basically, NBC stayed good friends with its ex, Jay Leno – like good friends who still talk every day – and when things weren’t going great with the new relationship, NBC’s ex started to look really, really attractive. So NBC called Conan O’Brien and told him that they wanted to go “on a break.” And O’Brien called bullshit, because most “breaks” are just break-ups initially by wussy people, so he kept calling and calling NBC and hilariously badmouthing NBC to all their friends until 1.) NBC admitted they were breaking up and 2) O’Brien won the break-up. I think it was pretty clear that when Conan O’Brien started slamming NBC, he didn’t want to get back together, he just wanted to embarrass the crap out of a network that wanted to do him wrong. Like all relationships that end like this (romantic or business), it seems like O’Brien saw the tides turning against him and struck out at NBC to hurt them more than they could hurt him because he could see the end coming and because NBC was going to try to pretend like they were doing the right thing for everyone when they were really just screwing everyone over except Jay Leno.