For a while I thought late night talk shows were dead. When Conan moved to the Tonight Show last summer it just seemed like the whole world could have cared less about the whole shift. Or at the very least, it didn’t seem to have a fraction of all the excitement and fanfare that surrounded David Letterman when he moved to CBS .
As it turns out, the world of late night is alive and well -- and the only reason it seemed like no one cared about Conan was because, well, there was no controversy surrounding him. That changed two weeks ago -- and if you don’t know what I’m talking about than you need to stop donating money to Haiti.
As I write this, NBC has pretty much already decided that its going to take the Tonight Show away from Conan O’Brien in order to give Jay Leno his old job back.
And from what I gather, it seems that NBC is doing this because they’re rewarding Jay Leno for being a no talent hack -- which was proven by the fact that no one watched his nightly primetime “comedy” show.
The most confusing thing in all of this is that Jay Leno was already lucky enough to get the Tonight Show once when he didn’t deserve it -- and for some unknown, beholden reason, NBC feels the need to give it to him again.
As most of you might remember, the first time NBC screwed over a more talented comedian in favor of Jay Leno happened waaay back in 1992 when Johnny Carson was retiring from his thirty year stint on the Tonight Show.
NBC had to choose between Jay Leno and David Letterman:
David Letterman was a hip and irreverent wise ass who had hosted Late Night with David Letterman for ten years following Johnny Carson -- and was considered by many as Carson’s natural successor.
Jay Leno was a hard working comic with nice guy persona who weaseled his way into being Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host thanks to his cutthroat manager, Helen Kushnick.
What Letterman didn’t know was that NBC had already made a secret, back room deal with Jay Leno to give him the Tonight Show once Johnny stepped down.
Letterman was naturally pissed when he found out -- as was most of the world -- and, as a result, he hired super agent, Michael Ovitz to kick some ass on his behalf.
According to the Late Shift -- a book by New York Times writer, Bill Carter -- which was later adapted into an HBO TV-movie of the same name -- after fearing that Letterman would jump ship to another network, NBC made another secret back room deal with David Letterman to give him the Tonight Show once Jay Leno finished out his two year contract -- most likely because they didn’t want to pay the penalty clause to Leno for breaking his contract.
Anyway, Letterman realized NBC could easily renege on their Tonight Show offer to him and he decided to pack up and move camp to CBS.
When they gave Conan the Tonight Show it felt like they were undoing the horrible wrong they had done to David Letterman. But when they announced that they were keeping Jay Leno around at 10:00pm, we should have known the whole Conan thing was too good to be true.
But the big question is, why is NBC sticking with Leno again? It's really not a smart decision on their part. They're not really thinking about the future.
Jay Leno isn't pulling in young viewers, but Conan is, and there's no question that his Tonight Show is the hip show to watch -- and given the chance, he would continue to pull in young viewers. If you don't believe me, look at the internet. How many Jay Leno support groups do you see on Facebook?? Not too many. In fact, I don't think any. I, on the other hand, have already joined like ten "Pro-Conan" groups.
The same goes for public rallies. How many young people are lining up to support Jay Leno outside his studios? Zero.
I’m not sure what NBC's loyalty to Jay Leno is, but it probably involved yet another secret, back room meeting. Or some Rumpelstiltskin-like scenario where Jeff Zucker owes his first born child to Leno.
The worse thing in all of this is that as part of my birthday package, my girlfriend got us tickets to go see the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien last September but we didn’t go because I’m a workaholic. I said, “we live in Los Angeles – we can see the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien whenever we want.”
Sadly, it seems, after this Friday that opportunity will never exist again.
And since we’re talking about talk shows, here’s my moment of glory in late night history -- the night I called into Tom Snyder’s show when I was 15: