Commercial Interruption: Conan the Destroyer
Earlier today, Conan O'Brien rejected NBC's plans to move "The Tonight Show" to 11:05 p.m. in order to accommodate Jay Leno's return to late night. In a statement, O'Brien said he hopes that NBC can "resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work." O'Brien further stated that, "Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over 'The Tonight Show' in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 (10:30 CST) is impossible without both.
"But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my 'Tonight Show' in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule."
Thomas: And here I thought Sarah Palin's debut on "The O'Reilly Factor" or the premiere of "American Idol" was going to be the big TV news of the day.
It's been an eventful week for television, with the sordid mess at NBC getting decidedly more acidic with each passing hour. Both Leno and O'Brien took shots at the peacock during their telecasts last night -- and let's just get this out there, I'm an O'Brien supporter, not a Leno fan -- so for my money, only one of the two came across as legitimately sincere in his spite and anger.
Now, I acknowledge that Leno appears to have been a team player through all of this -- or at least that's what Paul Reiser says. Apparently the Jay-dogg didn't want to retire, but fell on the sword so NBC could keep Conan in the "Tonight" slot. Now that his 9 p.m. show is done -- you know, that comedy spectacular with more crappy, recycled jokes than a "Pull My Finger" convention -- it looks like he's the prized pony and Conan is left playing second fiddle again. Only this time, all of late night is screwed up because Conan, even though he'd maintain the "Tonight" throne, would immediately have to follow Leno's half-hour show with all the A-listers and promos "The Jay Leno Show" already received these past few months.
So maybe Leno isn't as wishy-washy as Brett Favre, but he hasn't exactly been Conan's biggest supporter, either.
And that brings us to today. Conan has rejected NBC's plans for a move, citing the importance of maintaining "The Tonight Show's' enduring legacy in late night annals. Honestly, I could care less about the integrity of the show. Leaving NBC will be the best move (maybe not financially in the short term) that Conan could make. This is a network that's spinning and spinning in an attempt to solve its financial woes. So in the process of trying to make everyone happy for the sake of "revolutionizing" prime time, no one's happy -- and that likely includes Leno even though Mr. "I'd Take the 'Tonight Show' Back in a Heartbeat" will likely assume his familiar, boring role and get the same ratings he always did. None of this appears personal with Conan, but I can't be certain of that.
Look, Conan's comedy couldn't be more different than Leno's. He was never going to keep the old codger crowd (who apparently watches late night programming, go figure) that Leno maintained. "The Tonight Show" banner was proving to be a burden with Leno still soundly in the picture. Conan will be better off starting fresh and enjoying the resources of a network that fully supports something different after 10 p.m. -- whatever and wherever that is.
MJ, what do you think about the news?
Malavika: I, too, was never a Leno fan, so I'm coming from a place of bias. But even if you were a Leno fan, imagine how this feels if you are in Conan's shoes for the past few years. Here's a job you've been priming for, but the guy who has it just will not GO AWAY even though he's past his prime.
Sure, Leno took one for the team when he quit. But instead of retiring to some island and wooing the natives with his pointy chin, Leno was there five nights a week in a vapid, low-cost production that was but a mere ripoff of his previous show. Moreover, it was killing NBC, who just didn't have the cojones to figure it out until news organizations across the country started complaining that Leno's 9 p.m. program was killing the ratings for their 10 p.m. newscast (I doubt our area NBC station was one of them, but I digress) and their morning newscast.
And now that NBC has finally woken up to their shortsighted decision, Leno wants his old job back?
Conan absolutely did the right thing. His style of comedy and loyal viewers will follow him wherever he goes, and, frankly, it's a good thing it's not on NBC anymore. He needs a network or a station willing to let him be Conan -- funny, insane, often bizarre -- and he's better off without that peacock around his neck.
Let Leno take back "The Tonight Show." I won't be watching it either way.
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, firstname.lastname@example.org, Malavika Jagannathan, email@example.com