Friday, January 15, 2010

Conan vs. Leno

I've never been able to stay awake for much late-night TV, certainly not every night, but I prefer Johnny Carson to Leno, Letterman to Leno, and Conan to Leno. Leno does have the honor of succeeding Johnny Carson, but that almost went, and should have gone, to Letterman. Meanwhile, when he succeeded Letterman, Conan was known as a writer, but I'd seen next-to-nothing of his onscreen persona. I came to enjoy his intellectual brand of humor, a hunor that doesn't seem as mean-spirited as Leno's or Letterman's. I thought Conan was doing fine on The Tonight Show and he would build a following just as he did for Late Night.

But the conflict between him and Leno is less about comedy than it is about Leno deciding years in advance to retire and then changing his mind, very reminiscent of the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers succession with the Green Bay Packers. When Green Bay finally cut ties with Favre, he struck deals with the Jets and Vikings, displacing the development of their young quarterbacks.

If life or business were fair, NBC wouldn't allow Leno back to The Tonight Show. He somehow convinced NBC he would succeed with a 10 PM show. The rest of NBC's schedule is in such tatters that execs at the time decided to give up dramas at 10 and install Leno, an unmitigated failure (see Favre with the Jets).

Sure, Conan could have a show elsewhere, but it won't be The Tonight Show, just as The Late Show isn't The Tonight Show, the show Letterman and Conan paid their dues to host.

UPDATE (01/19/10): Here's Leno's perspective. As MysterLynch wrote in the Comments, Jay says NBC forced him to retire last year. I apologize for assuming Leno was trying to hang on at any cost.


MysterLynch said...

Actually, it was not so much Leno convincing NBC he could do 10 pm as it was NBC wanting to not only get Leno out of the Tonight Show, but keep him.

They did not want him on another network. Some brilliant NBC mind decided that Jay could same them millions at 10pm. They knew ratings would be lower, but that they would make up for it in the money they saved on production.

This reminds me of the Leno/Letterman fiasco. I blame NBC.

Gerald So said...

Did NBC originally force Jay to retire from The Tonight Show?

I don't blame them for wanting to keep him on the network as a personality, but they should be blamed for taking a chance on Leno at 10 and then pulling the plug and offering him 11:35.

MysterLynch said...

They wanted Jay out and Conan in his place. The move to 10 was an attempt to keep both.

As I said, tried to keep both Letterman and Leno back in the day.

They gave Leno the Tonight show, then went to Letterman and offered him the Tonight Show when Jay's contract expired.

They do not have a history of loyalty.