"Hosting 'The Tonight Show' has been the fulfillment of a life-long dream for me. And I just want to say to the kids out their watching, you can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too." –Conan O'Brien
So I’ve noticed that none of “we four” on Four Perspectives have weighed in one of the most recent and pressing of national debates – Jay vs. Conan and I’m wondering what everybody thinks.
For those of you who have been living under a rock or are early to bed early to rise types let me give you the lowdown. Around a year ago Jay Leno announced that he was going to retire from “The Tonight Show” and that Conan O’Brien, the long-time host of Late Night would take over as the host. Then a few months later we find out that Jay is going to set up what was essentially a carbon copy of the Tonight Show during prime time (9pm in the case of Mountain Standard Time). So Jay steps down, or rather over to his new show and Conan moves his entire operation from the East Coast to the West Coast for the Tonight Show. Then 7 months later we find that Jay’s show is not doing well and is totally tanking NBC’s prime time line-up. The affiliate stations are complaining because Jay’s show was a lousy lead-in to the news and they were losing their viewership. So NBC started trying to figure out now to get Jay out of prime time and back into late night. NBC suggested that The Tonight Show be moved back to 12:05 am (that would be 11:05pm MST) with Jay doing a ½ hour show right after the news at 11:35. Conan didn’t think it was right that the The Tonight Show should start the next day (at least on the East Coast) and agreed to step down. Like David Letterman said, “At 12:05am, that’s not The Tonight Show; that’s The Tomorrow Show!
I have to admit that I’ve been kind of flakey when it comes to late-night television over the years. Sometimes I’d watch Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. Sometimes I’d watch David Letterman (at least until he jumped over the creepy man-skank line recently). And if I was up late enough I would watch Conan or that Scottish guy on CBS. Then again just as often I would watch Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) on PBS at 10pm.
Personally I don’t think that Jay Leno is all that funny. He’s kind of like that Uncle, cousin or co-worker everyone has that think they’re funny, but are really just kind of cheesy. But I did like the “Headlines” segment and also “Jay-walking” could be hilarious – alarming but hilarious.
On the other hand I think Conan is really funny. Genuinely unforced funny because he just his own skewed view of the world - but he’s also kind of a spaz. He’s like the twitchy kid in high school that was a riot to sit by but would never shut up. Conan isn’t everybody’s brand of funny and I get that.
But at the end of the day it doesn’t seem to me that this situation is really about who is funnier. It seems to me that Jay Leno stepped down from The Tonight Show - he shouldn’t get to just step back in. It’s kind of like stepping out of line at the movies, doing a little shopping, and then wanting to get your place back – that’s not the way it works. Cut-backs we used to call it in Elementary School. If you voluntarily left your spot, you didn’t automatically get it back – it was just against the code. It seems to me that Jay is the big mean kid in 3rd grade that pushed his way back into the lunch-line – Cutbacks! It would be a much classier move for Jay to just take his classic car collection and drive off into the sunset…or at least to Vegas where I’m sure he could headline a show if he wanted to.
Now I didn’t watch Jay on Oprah, so I don’t know if he has a good story about all of this or not. And it’s not like Conan isn’t going to end up a multimillionaire with some free time on his hands. But I think Conan is right. The Tonight Show has a long legacy like Good Morning America (oops, wrong network but you get the idea) and it wouldn’t be right to turn it into The Tomorrow Show.
I like the idea of tradition and continuity of the national consciousness that can sometimes come with Television shows. Like when the whole country tuned in for the last episode of M*A*S*H. It will be interesting to see if The Tonight Show tradition is strong enough to withstand this train wreck.
As for me, I’ll probably be watching more PBS.