Let’s Talk Late Night

After weeks of negotiations, feuds, rallies, and bad decisions on NBC CEO Jeff Zucker’s part, Conan O’Brien’s departure from NBC and “The Tonight Show” has been finalized. O’Brien is being given $45 million in severance, a good portion of which he is handing over to his staff (approximately $13 million).

For those who have sided with Jay Leno, congratulations: you are alone. And here’s why:

Conan O'Brien

O’Brien is a classy gentleman. When Leno’s 10pm spot failed miserably (Zucker mistake number one), NBC offered to give him the 11:35pm spot after the news, therefore pushing “The Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien back to 12:05am, which would also push back the late night shows following it. O’Brien declined the offer with a polite, well-worded statement. He explained that he did not want to be a part of ruining the history of “The Tonight Show,” a legacy started by Johnny Carson.; the time slot changes would technically make it “The Tomorrow Show.” O’Brien also did not want to obstruct the time slots of the late night shows that follow him (we’ll call it “pulling a Jay Leno”). His entire statement can be read here.

What really makes O’Brien a stand-up guy is that he actually cares about his staff: a group of about 200 people uprooted their lives to move from New York to Los Angeles for this man. O’Brien, proving once again to be a genuinely good person, refused to settle on an agreement until he was absolutely sure his staff would be compensated.

Leno is greedy. A fan rallying outside the Universal lot in Los Angeles, Calif. on behalf of “Team CoCo” said it best with a sign that read, “Jay Leno is a Chin-Dian Giver.” After taking a moment to appreciate the hilarity of that pun, let us look at the facts: in 2004, Leno gave a statement that he would leave “The Tonight Show” in 5 years (2009) and hand it over to Conan O’Brien. He went on to say that he was happy with the decision and would take a page out of his friend Jerry Seinfeld’s book and go out on top while his show was still number one. Here’s the proof.

Leno went on to joke that it would give him more time to spend with his cars, which is exactly the point. Jimmy Kimmel recently made an appearance via satellite on “The Jay Leno Show” and, pardon my French, ripped him a new one. Kimmel made the point that while O’Brien loves his talk show, he also does it because the hefty check is what allows him to care for his family. Kimmel stated, “Conan and I have children – all you have to take care of is cars.” So Leno basically gets slammed on his own show and has essentially no comebacks. Why? Because everything Kimmel said was funny because it was true.

So what’s next in the world of late night? David Letterman will be back on top in the ratings once “The Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien ends this Friday, as O’Brien’s ratings went up 50% this week sending it to number one (Team CoCo: 1, NBC: 0). But do not cry for Conan O’Brien: he can sign with another network come September.

In the meantime, I suggest watching “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Fallon tends to get a bad rap for whatever reason, but he is proving that he’s definitely got what it takes and is good at what he does. Even Howard Stern suggested that NBC just give “The Tonight Show” to Fallon after watching his Neil Young rendition of “Pants on the Ground.” Fallon’s spoof of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series, called “The Real Housewives of Late Night,” features Fallon himself and fellow “Late Night” staffers dressed in drag as housewives as they are followed around the “Late Night” set wrecking havoc. There are seven episodes. Watch all of them.

All of the highlights from the show are featured on the always-up-to-date “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” blog. The blog itself is almost as entertaining as the show as it’s updated by a crack team of comedic writers, including bestweekever.tv blogger alum Sara Schaefer.

So there you have it. Zucker is an idiot, Leno should probably retire, O’Brien will move on to bigger and better things, and we get to look forward to all the 10pm prime time spots NBC now has to fill with quality programming.

About Lauren Wiegand

Lauren Wiegand (COM '11) is a television writer for the Quad.

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13 Comments on “Let’s Talk Late Night”

  1. Craig Ferguson is always my “really late night” show host. This guy is hilarious and always off the cuff. If Fallon’s show is on at another time maybe I’ll catch it but nothing interferes with Fergie

  2. IMAGINE the media feeding frenzy if Leno flops on the Tonight Show.
    He won’t be hired to sell AK land development infomercials like Eric Estrada. Branson won’t take him as an OPENING ACT.

    and it’ll be the first time in a decade, Leno makes me LAUGH.

  3. I like Jay and Conan – but I LOVE CONAN. I think that Jay handled this horribly. I recall that he did not thank Johnny Carson for all of his help in making Jay a “name”. His lame excuse? “It is out of my hands”. That show’s no spine, backbone or honour to me. He couldn’t make that call on his own? What a class boy.

    Conan went out with class and style and I sure hope that when he is back – he blows Jay right out of the water! I hope that people are not fickle and those of us who are not supporting Jay – continue to be strong – and not provide ratings based on curiosity on how Jay will emerge – as he always seems to – on top.

    Conan’s humour is fresh, original and the guy is just a gem. Personally, I think that Conan should have taken Jay’s 10pm time slot (just during this 7 months where he is unable to do interviews) – and go nuts with it.

    I also think that Jay should do a 10am show – much like the old talk show hosts like Merv Griffin.

  4. For those who are too young – or were too uninterested, at the time – to recall, it might help to get some background on this story. Read all about how Leno acquired The Tonight Show gig, back in 1993.

    http://bit.ly/6FjAQq (article from NY Times; 1994)

  5. I have never had anything against Jay Leno. I didn’t find him particularly funny but definitely preferred him to Letterman and would watch parts of his show while waiting for Late Night, which was infinitely better than any of the other evening shows in my opinion.
    That said, now it is hard for me to watch him. I do not want to wish ill on anyone, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing the Tonight Show with Jay Leno doing a little diving in the ratings when it starts up again.
    Most upsetting is the fact that I will be without quality late night entertainment (minus the Colbert Report of course) until September! I miss Conan and it is only the first day since he has been off the air!

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