Ego And Late Night Comedy

Ego And Late Night Comedy
Ego And Late Night Comedy

The Current Situation

Unless you have been away hibernating you are aware of the current controversy regarding the Tonight Show.  A few months ago Conan O'Brien took over the reigns of the most coveted late night talk show on television.  His ratings have not been very good compared to David Letterman.  At the same time, NBC decided to give a prime time slot to the former host of the Tonight Show, Jay Leno, to help boost NBC's failing prime time lineup.  Leno's show was a bomb.  Now, NBC has announced it will give Leno a half hour show starting at 11:30, the normal time for the start of the Tonight Show.  O'Brien shown disgust at the idea and it now appears that NBC will give up on the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and will give the reigns back to Leno

Leno And O'Brien Are Now Fighting Over The Tonight Show
Leno And O'Brien Are Now Fighting Over The Tonight Show
From Passing The Torch To Stabbing In The Back: Late Night Is A Rough Gig
From Passing The Torch To Stabbing In The Back: Late Night Is A Rough Gig

The Fight Over Late Night

The Godfather of late night television was Johnny Carson who every night at 11:30 entered the homes of millions of Americans for thirty years. When Carson decided to step down in the early nighties, the nation caught a glimpse of the inner workings of the television business when the battle between David Letterman, who for years was the host of Late Night, the show that followed Carson, and Jay Leno, a stand up comedian who was the regular guest host when Johnny was off. The battle between Leno and Letterman was the talk of the gossip columns.

Leno eventually won the battle when, if the book and the movie the "late shift" is to believed, by underhanded press releases and sleazy back room deals by his agents. Letterman moved to CBS and the two have battled for ratings ever since, with each taking the lead at different times.

When Leno decided it was time for him to step down, he decided he did not want a big fight to occur as had been the case when Johnny left. Instead, Leno announced five years ago his intention to retire and at that moment announced the decision that O'Brien would be his replacement. When the final show came, Leno symbolically passed the torch to O'Brien. It was a nice moment, a gracious gesture, and a nice transition.

That moment has passed.

Johnny Carson: The Gold Standard Of Late Night Television
Johnny Carson: The Gold Standard Of Late Night Television
Jay Leno Got His Show Back, But At What Cost?
Jay Leno Got His Show Back, But At What Cost?

Can't Lego My Ego

According to TMZ, which has apparently become the most reliable source of facts these days, Jay Leno has already won the battle with Conan O'Brien and will take over the Tonight Show again after NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics end. But the question must be answered, why couldn't Jay Leno walk away? The answer is the same as why couldn't Michael Jordan, Brett Favre or any other star walk away. Their ego won't let them leave the shining lights and fanfare.

Jay Leno seems like a decent guy. But I don't think he is funny, and for the most part much of America agrees. Apparently, middle America prefers his brand of humor over the sarcastic comedy provided by Conan. But this is not the point. Jay walked away. He passed the torch. And then he started a competing show on the same network, and when that didn't work, he worked to get his show back. Excuse, may I have may torch back? Ego.

How would Jay Leno have reacted to Johnny Carson consistently hanging around the old studio, talking to studio executives and doing on prime time what he used to do at late night? He would have had a fit and rightfully so. But Johnny didn't do that because there are two things Carson had that Leno never will: class and humor.

And how about the ego of NBC, a network that has lost credibility in news, humor in comedy, and ratings altogether. And yet the very NBC executives that caused this situation are now blasting Conan O'Brien for having the audacity to use his show to unleash his complaints. How dare you complain about the manner in which we are screwing you? They have recently threatened to keep Conan off the air for three years.

Letterman & O'Brien Will Be The Winners Once This Fight Is Done
Letterman & O'Brien Will Be The Winners Once This Fight Is Done
NBC And Leno Will Turn Out To Be The Losers
NBC And Leno Will Turn Out To Be The Losers

Letterman

Winners & Losers

 As the Team Jay versus Team Conan fight continues, and apparently has ended, it is time to take stock of who the winners and losers in this saga really is.  NBC and its lack of vision and professionalism has done the biggest favor to David Letterman who is now able to put a sex scandal behind him and poke fun at his favorite target, NBC.  Letterman's ratings have been rising since the sago began and given the current situation, may never go down.

Conan himself will be a winner in all of this as everyone sees that it is him who is getting screwed.  As for the failure of his show, NBC's lack of prime time success and the fact that Conan was not given very much time to make his show work at 11:30 will be the blame, not Conan.  For those who do not know, Conan is funny.  Maybe he is not 11:30 funny, but he is funny and will land on his feet somewhere.  My hope it is on HBO.

NBC and Jay Leno are the biggest losers in all of this.  Leno failed in two time slots and his "nice guy" perception will also take a hit.  NBC is a loser because it has to act like a professional corporation and appears to be run by buffoons.

The biggest winner in all of this are the views.  The last few weeks have provided some the best comedy in years.  Letterman and O'Brien are at the top of their game because their competitive juices are flowing.  Even Leno has gotten better, but his best moments have been when his is taking it on that giant chin about his behavior from his guests: See Jimmy Kimmel interview.

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Comments 6 comments

Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Excellent article. This whole thing is stupid. The Tonight Show died the moment Jay Leno took it over. He might have been a good comedian at one time but he is a lousy talk show host. I can't usually stay up to watch late night anymore but when I do I watch Craig Ferguson. Now he is funny...unlike Jay Leno...

And I hope Conan comes out on top. He doesn't need NBC.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Agreed, and I like Ferguson too.

Thanks for the comment.


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

I think one dynamic in this whole debacle is that Jay most likely would take a much higher salary than he was making before or he'd walk. It's a lot of money to be sure, and they're already losing a ton on the Olympics, and certainly on O'Brien's contract (he's probably going to Fox). Jimmy Fallon will be Jimmy the Fallout, so NBC has one last hope. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. NBC cannot walk away from that and Leno knows it.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

agreed, but to get such a great bargaining position, don't you think Leno had to sell his soul. He walked away and then undermined the guy he passed the torch too. Hard to comeback but he may be able to pull it off.

Thanks for the comment.


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

First off I think Leno left graciously and started his own earlier show. However it tanked because the humor was more mild. Conan was not as popular as the network hoped so they asked,[begged], Leno to come back. If Leno refused NBC would have gotten another replacement for Conan anyway.

Leno did not stab Conan in the back, If anything the Network did. As for Letterman, I think he is as funny as a sink full of dishwater. Leno is the man who is funny to me. Of course I am from the midwest.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 5 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Fair enough ruffridyer, but I think Leno coming back at all was the problem. Late shows have never worked at 10, been tried many times. Leno is fairly funny, just not my favorites and he steals a lot from other people.

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