My Thoughts on the Late Night Wars

At the moment I have at least five different articles on the go that I’m really trying hard to finish up. However all of them need to be put aside for a moment because I want to write this while it’s at least somewhat timely.

In case you may not have heard – there’s some drama going on in the world of late night talk shows. Then again if you haven’t heard about it then chances are good that you don’t have a TV, so you probably don’t really care. A lot has been said about who is getting screwed and who is a dick and who got screwed by which dick and so on. But there’s one thing that hasn’t been said – my thoughts on the matter.

I want this article to be a little more in depth than simply “fuck Leno and fuck NBC!” (although yes….fuck Leno and fuck NBC) but we’ll see how well I succeed.

First I should state my bias right up front – I don’t like Jay Leno. Even before this whole mess got underway, I was not a fan of the guy. His humour doesn’t appeal to me (so neutered and safe) and the only times I found him at all funny was when his humour relied on the stupidity of others (jaywalking and headlines). I don’t care for his interview style either since it’s primarily full of ass kissing and softball questioning. Oh and yes, I do like Conan. Despite all this, I will try and keep all this fair and balanced – or at least the Fox News version of fair and balanced.

Do I think Conan got screwed? Yes I do. As much as someone who is being paid millions of dollars to walk away from a job can be screwed anyway. After wanting the Tonight Show for so long he gets it for seven months before its previous owner comes and takes it right back. That’s a pretty raw deal right there.

Do I think Leno pulled a dick move? Yes I do. It’s true that NBC approached him five years ago and basically said “We want Conan to have the Tonight Show so you have to give it to him.” I can understand why Leno would be a little thrown off by this but he came out and said that Conan would get the show and that he would retire. Video evidence below:

I can't get the video to embed here (I'll admit it, I don't know what the hell I'm doing) but please also go watch Conan's announcement. It's just sad to watch now.

But as we all know Leno’s retirement didn’t happen did it? No instead we got The Jay Leno Show, five nights a week at 10 PM. I don’t know how anyone thought this would be a good idea. Sure enough the show bombed and many of the affiliates got super pissed since Leno’s ratings were affecting the local news that followed. Apparently some even suffered a 50% drop in ratings. Math will tell you that’s not a good thing at all. Of course this lead to a drop in ad revenues and generally NBC was not looking so good.

Anyway I really don’t have to go into the whole series of events that followed because I’m sure you all know. In a nutshell: Jay gets rewarded for failing by getting his old position back, Conan asked to move his show to 12:05, Conan refuses to do so since he believes it will ruin the history/legacy of the Tonight Show, Leno is cool with ruining it however so Conan just bails.

I have to say, all the drama aside – late night shows have been fantastic these past couple of weeks! Conan and Leno are taking shots at the network (although Leno’s I have a problem with, we’ll get to that), Kimmel did an entire show dressed as Leno (see one of the pics below) and Letterman, well Letterman has been having the time of his fucking life with all of this.

“I’m telling jokes and making fun of Jay Leno relentlessly, mercilessly, simply for one reason: I’m really enjoying it.”
- David Letterman

I do find it funny that the only thing Leno can strike back with against Dave is about his affairs, something Letterman himself has joked about time and time again. Also funny is that everytime Leno makes this joke, his fans treat it like “Oh shit! Leno just took Dave down a peg!” Hell even some articles are headlined “Leno Strikes Back!” Yes he struck back with an 8-month old joke about a topic nobody really cares about anymore. Leno seems to be able to take it, but he certainly can’t dish it.

This entire time I’ve had a huge problem with the way Leno is handling things. He did speak about the incident the other night so some kudos there (though not many kudos, we'll get to that) but he is trying so hard to make it sound like he is the victim in all of this that it almost further solidifies him as the villain. Well a villain anyway. NBC is definitely the evil wizard of this whole scenario.

As I said Conan has been understandably taking shots at NBC on his show. The thing is, so has Leno. About what you may ask? About how the Jay Leno Show has been cancelled. While this is true, there is one important fact that he always conveniently left out – THAT IT’S BEING CANCELED SO HE CAN MOVE TO A BETTER JOB!

Everytime Leno made a crack about NBC canceling his show it just made him look more and more like a dick. You can say the network has screwed up overall, but don’t try and make it look like you’re getting screwed here too. I think the two comments that bothered me the most were:

“With the all the controversy going on here at NBC, actually, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian’s ratings have gone up. They've gone up. So you're welcome!”


"Conan O'Brien, understandably, is very upset. He had a statement in the paper yesterday. And Conan said NBC had only given him seven months to make his show work. When I heard that, seven months, how'd he get that deal? We only got four."

I don’t really think I need to explain why these comments are piss offs for me. I mean come on. The second one proves my point even further that for at least a good long while Jay refused to acknowledge what comes after his show being canceled. Yes you got four months, before getting a fucking promotion! The man is failing upwards and yet is trying to make it look like he is getting a raw deal. We’re not buying it Jay.

I said earlier that Leno recently addressed all of this on his show. This was the first time he really acknowledged that he technically isn't being fired. However the speech still didn't redeem him, at least not in my eyes. For instance he is still trying so hard to play the "I'm such a good guy" card. He said he took back the Tonight Show so his staff could keep working. That's a nice sentiment, I just don't completely buy it. 

During this speech Leno also said "This is all business.  If you don’t get the ratings, they take you off the air." Yes this is true....UNLESS YOU'RE JAY FUCKING LENO! Come on man....

On a side note: here’s a fun article I found from 17 years ago. It’s an interview the New York Times conduced with Jay Leno. Seems Leno is upset that after having The Tonight Show for just a few months, they might take it away and give it to someone else. He says he needs time to build an audience, a point Conan recently made as well. A point Leno himself seemed to disagree with when he pointed out Conan’s bad ratings in his speech from the other evening.

I agree that Conan needed time to build an audience. He and Leno cater to very, VERY, different audiences. Conan is for people who have a sense of humour, and Leno is for everyone else.

Seriously can we address Leno fans for a second here? Maybe this isn’t all of them, and I apologise to the good ones out there who see both sides of things, but this is what I’ve seen numerous times now. It seems many Leno fans hate Conan because “oh he’s weird.”

“Oh I don’t like that Conan, he’s too weird.”

“Look at his hair, his hair is so weird. I don’t want to watch him.”

I’m amazed how many fucking people refuse to watch Conan because “his hair is a little weird”. That has to be the lamest excuse I’ve heard to avoid something. Leno’s chin is a tad large but that’s not why I refuse to watch him. There are actually people out there who firmly believe Conan should not have the tonight show because his hair is strange. There are probably the same people who, once Oprah has gone off the air, will blindly roam the streets, confused and begging strangers to tell them what books they should read.

So what happens next? Well I understand there are protests being held at NBC by “Team Coco” members but let’s face it, it’s not going to do a lick of good. The deal is done; Leno will be going back to The Tonight Show.

Ideally the ratings slump that Leno went through at 10:00 will carry over to his return to 11:35. I’m also curious to see if there are any celebrities who will flat out refuse to go on his show. A lot of people have spoken out in favour of Conan so it will be interesting to see where they stand.

Unfortunately that’s not likely. I’m sure Leno’s ratings will come back and NBC will say “See? We were right to do all this.” Celebrities have shit to promote so they will come flocking back as well.

I think this can all be summarized simply by saying that NBC fucked up the most here, but I think Leno should have taken more of a stance. I don’t think he should have taken the Tonight Show back and that it was pretty much the textbook definition of a dickmove, were that term actually featured in textbooks.

So that’s my surprisingly curse free and long winded take on everything that went down. Conan = classy, Leno = dickish, NBC = trainwreck.

Fun Fact – Did you know that in 1989 Leno starred in a buddy cop movie with Mr. Miyagi? Because I sure had no fucking idea. Check this out.