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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The gloves are coming off between Leno and Conan

ABC's Jimmy Kimmel threw the first roundhouse rights on Tuesday, but you knew it was only a matter of time before the very public airing of grievances ("I gotta lot of problems with you people!") began to get more personal between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.

Having directed most of their anger at NBC executives since the network announced it wanted to move Leno back into the 10:35 p.m. slot, both Conan and "Big Jaw" Jay mixed it up with some body blows during their Wednesday night monologues.

Leno noted Conan's complaint that his NBC bosses gave him only seven months to establish an audience at the “Tonight” show.

“Seven months!” Leno said. “How did he get that deal? We only got four.”

O’Brien swiftly returned Leno's volley, saying that the “Tonight” show had been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“And I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life,” he said. “Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too.”

Now, as one of the 85,000 strong showing support on the "I'm with Coco" Facebook page, Leno suggesting that he didn't get "enough time" -- even in jest during a monologue -- is about as empty and shallow as another recycled "Jaywalking" bit. I hate to keep harping on the Brett Favre analogy (hey, this type of inner turmoil is old hat to us in Green Bay!), but the whole, "Aw shucks, I just wanna play ball" scenario is garbage when promises are made -- and as Conan said last night by noting how his entire staff moved to California -- other people's livelihoods are involved.

Sorry, but just like Favre couldn't walk off a plane and interrupt the Packers team scrimmage only to assume his old throne, the Leno move isn't small potatoes like Jerry Seinfeld would have you believe. NBC screwed up big time by going back on its word and attempting to placate Leno, who clearly is the bigger name at the network. How is Conan supposed to react when Leno not only won't go away, but openly pines for his old position even though network bosses sealed his fate years ago?

Yeah, that Jay Leno: he's a real team player.

Unable to resist, David Letterman also chimed in during CBS’ “Late Show," saying, "Isn't it lousy cold outside today? You know, they say, from the weather bureau, it’s caused by an Arctic chill between Jay and Conan.”

NBC still hasn’t commented on O’Brien’s refusal to move "The Tonight Show," and a negotiated exit seems likely, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, that same report cited a study illustrating just how damaging Leno’s prime-time show was to NBC’s local stations.

The research firm Harmelin Media said local NBC stations saw their late news audience drop by an average of 25 percent in November compared with the previous year among 25- to 54-year-old viewers. The decline was particularly steep in some of the largest markets: 48 percent in New York, 43 percent in Los Angeles and 47 percent in Philadelphia.

Harmelin used data on the number of ads run in late local news programs and their cost to calculate that over a three-month period, the Leno experiment would cost these stations collectively $22 million.

Anyway, say what you want about the drama at NBC, but the ongoing tug-of-war is making "The Tonight Show" must see TV as Conan continues to throw sharp barbs at his bosses and use it as fodder for his own shattered legacy as an NBC also-ran. Last night's "Classic Tonight Show" bit was priceless, but since I can't find that online, here are two clips of Coco in top form.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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