Next Up for Conan O’Brien

The Conan/Jay saga has finally wound down after two insane weeks, a brief impasse until March 1 when the now much-hated Jay Leno returns to The Tonight Show, and he and Dave go at it with a venom beyond any they ever had before as direct competitors. The most interesting aspect of their battle, I think, is that as Jay was winding down The Tonight Show the first time, he and Dave seemed to have made peace with each other. There was even talk, before the 10:00 show came up, that Jay might appear on Dave’s show again at some point. He was even supposedly offered an appearance on Dave’s show the night of Conan’s debut, and while he turned it down out of deference to Conan, both sides left the possibility open. Now, it’s safe to say no matter which show leaves the air first, that guest spot will never, ever happen.

So March 1 marks the beginning of the next battle in the last night wars, and as for the battle after that? Well, if we all keep our fingers crossed and pray really hard, it just might come in early September, as Conan O’Brien enters the fray on Fox as direct late night competitor # 4 (against Jay, Dave, and Stewart/Colbert.)

In the meantime, here are some thoughts/links on the astounding battle now behind us.

1. ESPN’s Bill Simmons, who correctly predicted that Leno would be back at The Tonight Show helm within a year back in March, tells New York Magazine’s Will Leitch that Conan’s show “sucked” at 11:30, that he was “too whiny” in how he handled it, and that if he does land at Fox at 11:00, he’ll fail there as well.

2. The Los Angeles Times’ Neal Gabler, in a piece that includes some fascinating background on how networks became so focused on younger demographics and why that might be a mistake, calls Leno’s ultimate victory here the revenge of the dorky over the hip.

3. Newsweek’s Joshua Alston lays out a road map for Jay Leno to rehabilitate his image, but unfortunately repeats the now established media fiction that Conan “lost his job.” He didn’t. He quit.

4. Johnny Carson’s longtime head writer says that all the hosts – Dave, Jay, and Conan – could learn something about class from his former boss, who he believes would just tell the whole lot of them to man up.