Let me start by saying, I watch Letterman. I always have, and as long as he has a show, I always will. I started when I was a wee thing, and just stuck with him since then. Yeah, I did see some of the Johnny Carson days of “The Tonight Show,” but was team Letterman when Leno took over for Carson. So, I’m coming from this as someone who doesn’t even watch Conan’s “Tonight Show.”
That said, this whole thing is bullshit.
I’ve long maintained that once upon a time, Jay Leno was a funny guy. During the stand-up boom of the ’80s, he was one of the greats. His appearances on Letterman’s show were always hilarious. So it was nothing but a huge disappointment when he took over for Carson and turned into a totally boring middle of the road talk show host.
But fine, apparently this is what he needed to be to fill an 11:30 P.M. time slot, and appeal to middle America. I didn’t much care, because there was Letterman to watch instead. When I heard, years ago, that Conan would be taking over for Leno eventually, I was nonplussed, but over the years, I’ve seen more of Conan, and grown to like him a hell of a lot, and was happy he was getting the coveted “Tonight Show.”
All that was tainted when it was announced Leno was not going away, and he would still be sullying TV screens five nights a week. It was a stupid decision, something that should have been obvious from the beginning, not just with the benefit of hindsight. His show tanked, Conan’s ratings were down, and NBC found themselves up shit creek. Alas, they chose to save themselves by staying in their paddle-less canoe.
Conan’s low ratings are, I think, a combination of a bad lead in, (no one’s watching Leno, thus no one is watching the NBC affiliate news at 11), and the added fact that Letterman, because of his various scandals, had a great year.
Neither of these things is Conan’s fault, but NBC has instead chosen to demote him and kowtow to Leno’s demands. And in an awesome letter released today, Conan made it clear he’s not going to lie down and let Leno and NBC walk all over him.
Leno’s viewership, such as it is, is old and they are going to die soon. Leno is not the future of late night. People are not screaming to keep Leno on the air, whereas the “Team Conan” folks are rather vocal.
If NBC wants to give Leno a show so badly, they should either given him a once-a-week show at 10pm, or some crappy 30 minute show AFTER Conan. And if that doesn’t happen, Conan should take his talent somewhere else.
But really, Leno should just learn to move on with some dignity. He’s got all the fucking cars he could possibly want, more money than he will ever be able to spend, and the potential to become a funny guy once again. He should follow in Jerry Seinfeld’s footsteps: Work on a stand-up routine, hit the road again, and then see what opportunities come up.
And besides, Letterman’s probably gonna retire in a few years…