On nearly every
topic I write about outside of my own life, I'm the
first to say: "Just my two cents, I really have no
idea." I was about to do the same for this, and then I
realized I actually do have some inside-knowledge
of this business, alas we forget the infamous CBS
offer from the head of late night to host "Up &
Adam" that was to go against Carson Daly in
That being said,
what really gives me a leg-up on most with this
subject is that I was addicted to late night TV in my
teens and followed the politics of the Leno/Letterman
feud over The Tonight Show like they were my personal
friends. The movie, "Late Shift" (which is honestly
one of my favorite movies of all-time), explained the
whole drama (with a few creative spices I'm sure) with
such flair I pray those same filmakers do it again for
this go 'round. Whereas the NBC execs looked slimey
before, they certainly didn't look this stupid.
I have been absolutely glued to every single
aspect of this, especially because in 2007 when
I was gonna start "Up & Adam", my heart was
absolutely set on somehow parlaying it into "Late
Night" on NBC as they had yet to announch a successor
to Conan. And btw, is it not unreal how Carson Daly is
never mentioned... ever in all this recent hoopla? I
swear that man has naked pics of an exec. Seriously. I
haven't the slightest idea how he stays on the air.
Years and years and years.
But this entry is
not about opinion, and that's the entire point. You
want my opinion on the hosts? Johnny Carson was king,
and by such a long mile there will be nothing close in
my lifetime. The only person I ever get that "perfect"
feeling from is Jon Stewart, but clearly his show is
completely different. Johnny's mastery of the flow of
that show, how to deal with guests, how to deal with
Ed, was so remarkable, I find myself watching
clips on YouTube and 3 hours pass. The rest?
wrote about it while studying for "Up &
'07. Again, this is not about who I like or who
I think is funny or deserves what. This is simply
about trying to cut through the facts, which I barely
see anyone doing without bias.
announced Conan would take over the tonight show in
it was literally 5 years
everyone understood why; tNBC wanted o avoid the
disaster that '92-93 was when Johnny retired. However
there was one problem, Leno was #1 and had been for 9
straight years. (Letterman infamously beat Leno for 90
straight weeks when he went to CBS until the Hugh
Grant interview on Leno, and Leno never looked back).
The real question was, when the time came, would
NBC really pull Leno if he was #1?
Cut to mid-2008,
NBC was getting cold feet. The same issues that came
up in the Letterman/Leno debate resurfaced. Could the
12:30 guy (now Conan) really work at 11:30? Leno's
ratings were spectacular when he filled in for Johnny
Carson in the early 90's which is why they eventually
went with him. This time however, it seemed like
suicide to pull your #1 guy off the air, so at the end
of '08, they announced they were trying an experiment:
putting him on at 10pm.
worked for NBC exactly as they thought it would. The
ratings were lower than the previous primetime shows,
but it cost them so much less than 5 one hour dramas,
they were in the black... local affiliates however
were getting crushed. Local news relies so heavily on
their lead-ins that in only 4 months of the Jay Leno
Show they dropped over 30%. That's more than stunning.
NBC nearsightedly underestimated their local affiliate
structure (which is the backbone of the networks) and
were in some shit.
Over on the
Tonight Show, Conan was getting beat by Letterman on a
nightly basis. Suddenly their "cake and eat it too"
mentality had neither cake or eating involed. It was a
nightmare. But a nightmare of their own making,
because when you kill the local affiliates by 30%,
guess who else will suffer? The Tonight Show. Conan
could never win. NBC took a serious risk with Leno and
it destroyed their entire line-up, and may even take
down the network in all honesty. There's not a lot of
time left for the "line-up" model, and this may keep
them at 4th until everything becomes "on-demand".
What people keep
missing in all of this is that the bad guy here is
neither Conan or Leno. Leno was pulled from The
Tonight show after being #1 for 15 straight years. Can
you imagine? Like, sweet holy hell - what do you have
to do? If you read that article from 2004, there's a
quote from him that showed him taking the company
line, as if he was ready to retire, but do a teeny bit
of research on the man, and you know he is a
workaholic of epic proportions. He was just being a
good "company guy" and the closer they got to 2009,
you could sense in many comments that he felt pushed
Conan on the other
hand - got the fucking Tonight Show. Only the greatest
gig ever for a comedian. He knew about it
FIVE YEARS before he got it. Talk about a
build-up. He moves his entire crew and their families
to LA and within 7 months they put Leno BACK on The
Tonight Show. Why? Because their "10pm experiment"
failed so badly? Woah. Woah. Seriously. It's fucked
up. NBC is trying desperately to find a Delorean and
just go back to 2009 and not make the switch but they
can't. And trying to switch it back now is more than
arrogant. I admit, it was a mistake to take Leno off
the Tonight Show, but he's damaged goods now. You
made your bed. You can't cut Conan (a man who has been
loyal to you for nearly 20 years) after 7 months!
You built this up for HALF A DECADE.
But alas, they
are. They are trying to just reshuffle really quick
and hope that a year from now no one will notice.
Buffoons. Zucker should be fired. We'll see what
Personally? If I'm
Jay? I walk. I do NOT take The Tonight Show
back. This is a defining moment for him, and it
appears he's not seeing that. That "nice guy" image is
going straight out the window. He needs to take a year
off. Get out of the television spotlight for a bit.
Going back to The Tonight Show is suicide because
everyone is gonna be on Conan's side. He's not
gonna get the bookings he got previously, and because
of NBC's moves - as I said, he is damaged goods. It's
a little known fact that Letterman was actually
offered The Tonight Show after Leno got it, but he had
to wait 18 months. Those around him said, even though
he was excited, that he was no longer getting "The
Tonight Show with Johnny Carson", he was getting
damaged goods. He realized that, and went with CBS.
Someone has to tell Leno the same thing. His
"Tonight Show" is gone. The prestige associated with
The Tonight Show? Also gone. Once you hand it to
someone for 7 months and then make a change, you've
destroyed the legacy. Leno should've done the right
thing and walked, and let Conan do his show.
There are of
course winners in this. Namely; Letterman, Fergusen
and Kimmel. And holy, holy shit did Kimmel blow me
away. You may have heard he decided to do an entire
show dressed up like Jay Leno, which was pretty
funny... but in an effort to save face - Leno had
Kimmel on his show via satellite. Awkward turned into
AWESOME very quickly. Kimmel did not
play along and what transpired will go down in history
(mine anyway) as one of the greatest moments in late
night. I will meet Jimmy some day, I will shake his
hand, and I will thank him for pulling no punches.
I've never seen anything like it. I actually clapped
and said "oh, hell no" as I watched this.
As I tried to show
this entire entry, the sides were very clear all the
way until one point. That point being Jay accepting
The Tonight Show AGAIN. That's when he lost me.
Everything up to that point I could understand
and in fact even feel sorry for. But once Jay crosses
that line and sets foot back on that show
(I still think he has time to pull out of the
deal)... it's done. He will forever be remembered for
that move and it's a shame someone close to him can't
see that. I mean, I get it - it was his favorite job
in the world, he had it for 17 years, did great at it,
loved every aspect of it - but that era is done. It's
gonna be a very different energy this time
doesn't it? I totally relate to him wanting that back.
I cannot imagine how hard it would be to walk. And
those who bring up money (and that he has enough)
really don't get it. Give me a billion dollars... you
think I stop The Journey? Uhm, no. I just have a crew
around me helping me make it better. I've found what I
love, and will do it forever. So did Jay. But he
agreed to walk away all those years ago, and he needs
to remember that.
Conan on Fox will
be awfully interesting. He'll start 30 minutes early,
but that won't really matter. His audience will be the
Tivo crowd/internet generation. And the thing he'll
get Leno won't? The nearly unanimous support of
Hollywood. He will win the booking battles, which just
may hand him the war.
And in a world of
real wars, real tragedies, I sure do love escaping to
this world for a bit. More on the real world on the
20th. One year later...