Weighing in on the late night fiasco, my first impulse is to blame Jay Leno for fucking things up yet again. Over on CBS, Letterman is positively giddy. Not only does he get to bash the network that screwed him over (you can tell he’s still bitter) but this time he gets to revel in Leno’s perceived role as the villain. Last night Dave proposed a scenario where all the major players involved come on his show to duke it out, and in the end everyone who wants a show will get a show. How I would love to see Jay, Conan, Jimmy Fallon, Jeff Zucker, and Carson Daly (sitting in Dave’s suggested folding chair) come together for a twisted roundtable. Right now even Daly would garner more sympathy than Leno and Zucker, and one can only hope that they would be dragged out of the Ed Sullivan theater by a pitchfork bearing mob leaving Conan and Dave to divide the late night kingdom accordingly.
Over on Conan, they’re letting it all hang out. Andy Richter commented that it’s the most fun he’s ever had in the midst of a scandal, and Conan proceeded to deliver an inspiring message to any kids in the audience: you can have and be whatever want in this life provided that Jay Leno doesn’t want the exact same thing. Jack McBrayer came onstage in character as 30 Rock page Kenneth. He led a tour group and earnestly noted that Conan’s studio would make a good storage space for NBC. Conan asked him if he could continue the tour at a later time. “But it’s the 5 o’clock tour.” It makes no sense to do it at a later time. McBrayer/Kenneth also reminded everyone that most of Conan’s crew uprooted their families from NYC to LA in anticipation of jobs that would last longer than 7 months (bandleader Max Weinberg moved his secret family as well). It was a funny bit, but it drove home the point that NBC is doing more than dicking over one individual in O’Brien. It wasn’t as if the staff, writers, and musicians were moving across country on a lark or to give an untried show a whirl. This is (or was) The Tonight Show for crying out loud, an American institution that keeps an anointed host for years. Now the critics will say that NBC is giving Conan the 12:05 option, but how are they giving him any kind of a chance to build his own audience if they keep the albatross that is Leno around his neck in the preceding timeslot? Conan has a right to be furious, and NBC better watch it. If they don’t budge and Conan jumps to FOX (a rumor that gains more steam by the hour), they’re going to lose viewers. I suppose that somewhere Leno has some diehard fans, but the casual late night viewer will either go with Dave if they want something familiar or switch to “Team Coco” because Leno and NBC are now cast as bullies that no one wants to support. Ricky Gervais rocked as Conan’s guest. He plugged the Golden Globes and his new HBO series then asked Conan what he planned to do. Did he think that NBC had already pulled the plug and they were only doing the show for themselves? I wouldn’t put it past NBC at this point.
The Tonight Show and Conan and heck even Leno (maybe) deserve better. The show should remain where it has always thrived, Conan should get a chance to make it his own, and if NBC wants to keep Leno, then give him a 90 minute variety show or something once a week and not a pale copy of what his Tonight Show once was. It soils Leno’s tenure, pathetic as it was, behind the desk and prevents Conan from reinventing the show for a new audience. Perhaps this all works out well for everyone involved, but NBC likely comes out the loser, which is kind of tragic if you consider what the network once was. And Dave loves every minute of it.