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.

Rich People’s Problems: Did Conan Make the Wrong Choice?

“There are real people out there with real problems.”

This sentence was spoken last night by Conan O’Brien on his second-to-last Tonight Show. He was referring to the problems in Haiti, but depending on what happens next for him, he might have also inadvertently been referring to members of his staff.

As we’ve all read by now, O’Brien and his reps haggled for days to get every dime they could from NBC for his staff’s severance packages, and Conan himself will donate a large sum – a seven figure amount, according to his management – toward those packages out of his own settlement, which is reported to be around $32 million.

There’s no word on how exactly the severance will break down – given the amount of money involved, maybe each staffer gets six months pay? One year’s worth? More? – but however long it lasts, given both the current weakness of the economy and the generally tough nature of finding jobs in television, there’s no guarantee that every member of his staff will find employment before their severance runs out.

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What “The Wire” can teach us about Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, and the current late night debacle

So now, if you believe New York Magazine, the intensity of the outrage surrounding Conan O’Brien’s removal from The Tonight Show is a parable for our recessionary anger at the fat cats – “Leno is AIG,” writer Adam Sternbergh claims – who have bullied us little people around, laid us off from our jobs, and generally caused everything bad to happen in our lives.

Conan O’Brien, therefore, is us – the little guy. Conan is he or she who is mad as hell, can’t take it anymore, and is now rising up to claim what is rightfully theirs.

Hogwash.

Because if we’re looking at this situation realistically, a much better comparison – and one that contradicts the Conan-as-revolutionary meme – comes to us from HBO’s landmark series, “The Wire.”

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Kimmel, O’Brien, and the truth about Leno-Hate.

Did’ja hear what Jimmy Kimmel said to Jay Leno last night? How he answered every question Jay asked him for Jay’s incredibly awkward 10@10 segment by alluding to the NBC debacle, and placing the blame squarely on Jay’s shoulders?

Oh my god…he eviscerated him! It was incredible!

That’s the word around the Internet, anyway. And it was incredible – but not just for the reasons people are giving.

Yes, Jimmy took him apart. Jay – who’s been placed in an absolute no-win situation, public relations-wise, as people ‘round the ‘Net delight at every joke offered at his expense by Dave, Jimmy, Craig, and yes, even poor little Conan, but rise up in anger when Leno has the nerve to strike back – invited Kimmel onto his show two nights after Kimmel spent his entire show in a Leno wig and chin, talking in a demeaning Lenoesque accent. It was really an incredibly ballsy move on Jay’s part – something no one has really acknowledged – and he took a risk, possibly based on the much-reported friendship the two formed during the writer’s strike, that Kimmel would play nice.

Needless to say, the risk did not pay off.

Instead, Kimmel, sensing the blood in the water, saw an opportunity to throw his name into the “Team Conan” buzz in a huge way – especially important now, since the late night viewing audience is about to be thrown up for grabs yet again – and always having a sharp sense of business savvy, Kimmel grabbed it with both hands.

But it was his ending salvo that added a surreal sense to this already far-too-surreal affair. As Jay was ending the bit, undoubtedly regretting his attempt to play along with all the scorn being heaped on him, Kimmel unleashed the following.

“Listen Jay. Conan and I have children. All you have to take care of is cars. We have lives to lead here. You have $800 million. For god sakes, leave our shows alone.”

And with this one devastating verbal grenade, Kimmel exposed everything backward about this whole “Team Conan” movement.

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