Jay Leno: Anti-Conan Insurance - Macleans.ca

Jay Leno: Anti-Conan Insurance

Letterman’s taunting has been the best part of the Len-Con debacle


As Conan O’Brien signs his severance pact with NBC and prepares to leave — see Maureen Ryan for the latest good LenCon analysis — the Hollywood Reporter points us to this 2008 article where an “inside source” sort of predicted the whole thing (I’ve added line breaks for greater ease of reading):

NBC has committed to Conan for ‘The Tonight Show’ and will go through with it. It’s less of a financial decision, because the $40-45 million penalty payment is not super relevant. If they went to Jay and said, ‘we need you to split the payment,’ he’d do it. They’ve made a public commitment to Conan and don’t want to get beaten up over it.

NBC will do everything to try to keep Jay. Morning shows, afternoon shows, daytime shows – he won’t take any of those. They will try to keep Jay in the fold so if Conan fails on ‘The Tonight Show’ they will put Jay right back in there. Jeff Zucker will call Jay into his office with big wink and say, ‘if you say it publicly I’ll deny it, but if Conan fails, I want you back.’ That’s just the way NBC works. Back when Dave and Jay were fighting over ‘The Tonight Show,’ they tried to see if they could do the same thing. That’s what they’re going to try and do here with Jay and Conan, only they are more likely to pull it off this time.

So much for the “not getting beaten up” part, of course.

In my opinion, David Letterman has been the most entertaining person in this whole thing. His response to Leno’s “don’t blame Conan” comments, two nights ago, was particularly good. Letterman is bitter and cranky and his affable manner (intentionally) does not conceal his seething rage. All this can be a handicap when he’s trying to be lighthearted and funny, but it is perfectly suited for the current situation, in addition to the fact that he isn’t directly involved in this and can therefore say whatever he wants (unlike Conan). Letterman was the guy who really perfected the idea that a talk-show host could be a character on his own show, someone whose reactions, feelings and petty jealousies could be a part of each night’s storyline. Other people had done it, of course, but his shows are really not so much talk shows as the story of a guy hosting a talk show. And the reactions of the Letterman character, with his anger, his personal baggage, his passive-aggressive loathing of Leno, and his taunting response to Leno’s cheap shots (Leno can’t really think of anything to say about Letterman except to refer to the blackmail scandal over and over) has created some of his best character-comedy moments.

I think my favourite part of this speech is “Lonnie Donegan.”

[vodpod id=Video.2905453&w=560&h=340&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

And just for the hell of it, and to explain the obscure reference, here’s the actual Lonnie Donegan with one of his biggest hit recordings:

Comedy fans may remember Stan Freberg’s hilarious parody of Donegan’s endless pre-song narration.


Jay Leno: Anti-Conan Insurance

  1. I'm hoping Conan goes direct to Dave's couch, and we see Letterman rip into NBC execs with reckless abadon a la Norm Macdonald appearing on "Late Night" post-"Weekend Update" firing.

  2. er, "Late Show". I knew what I meant, that's what counts.

  3. Letterman hilarious? I just don't see it. Mean and still apparently bitter over losing the Tonight Show 18 years ago. I guess tv execs like Ebersol are used to it, but he actually referred to Leno as "Big Jaw." Classy.

    I do agree, however, that everyone hates Leno. Everyone except the network, the station owners, and viewers. Other than those groups, yeah: everyone.

    Anyhow, Kimmel rules.

    • "I do agree, however, that everyone hates Leno. Everyone except the network, the station owners, and viewers. Other than those groups, yeah: everyone."

      I just don't get where those viewers come from. In my entire life I've never met anyone who can even TOLERATE Leno, let alone someone willing to admit that they "like" him. He clearly has a large following, but I've never met a single one of them.

      • Thank you, Pauline Kael!

        • Did Kael actually say that? It never sounded like something she would say (she was far from a naive person or even a conventional liberal). What seems to have been her actual Nixon quote was simply pointing out that she traveled in circles where almost no one voted for Nixon, which is true. But she wasn't saying that she didn't understand how Nixon won.

          • Thanks, I hate to concede to Wikipedia but I don't have time to attempt to prove it wrong, if in fact it is.

            And I will resist relying upon Tom Flanagan's "It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be plausible." See: I resisted.

      • Allow me to introduce myself!

        • Well, I'm not sure if it counts online (it's easy to claim to be a fan of Jay Leno when no one can see your face) but I'll count that.

          OK, so, one. I've met one fan of Jay Leno in my life. Nine more Jay Leno fans and the number of Jay Leno fans I know will match the number of people I know who think Jay Leno should be dragged before the Hague and tried for war crimes (lol).

      • I am a fan of Leno and have been for the last 17 years – never liked Letterman – always put me of as an abrasive a****. Oh yeah and I have a dozen odd friends who love to watch Leno as opposed to grumpy grandpa. Forgot to mention – there are 5 million of us who watch his show every day irrespective of whether he was on the 11.30 slot or the 10pm slot. Grandpa never went past 4 million and Coco (as much as I used to enjoy his late night) carried an average 2.5M. Majority of this 5M don't care about blogging as we know who rules late night.

        So next time count out this 5M when you use an adjective like "everyone" – which incidentally you don't seem to know the meaning of – and no you are not smarter than a first grader.

    • It just occurred to me – Jay Leno is the Nickelback of late night television!

      He may well have more fans than any of his rivals, but you'll never get one of his fans to admit to being one of his fans! They'll watch the show in droves, but secretly, they all feel the shame.


    • Yes. Hilarious. The man could just stare into the camera and I'd eventually start laughing. Same with Conan. Jay sucks so bad..his monologues suck, his banter sucks, its obvious he often doesnt proof his jokes, since the delivery comes out awkward – you can even see on his face that its the first time he's read some of that crap. Kimmel relatively sucks too. His studio does anyway – absolutely ghetto complete with stale cigarette stink and burns on the seats that may or may not collapse. I went to a show once, purely to see Chris Cornell perform, but sitting through the actuak show was torture. You will be missed, Conan.

    • "everyone hates Leno. Everyone except the network, the station owners, and viewers. Other than those groups, yeah: everyone."

      Yeah, well the network and station owners could give a crap about Jay, they only care about ratings. The ones he used to get at The Tonight Show. (Other than the first two full years when he lost to Letterman consistently and relentlessly. Hmmm…guess Conan's not going to get the same benefit of the doubt. But I digress.) The ratings he didn't get at 10 o'clock.

      But those old Tonight Show ratings, they tell us a lot about who the viewers love. Or do they? Based on the outcry and popular uprising over NBC screwing Conan, I'd say they don't tell the whole story. As unfunny and dull as Jay is, he still got the numbers, leading me to the following hypothesis:

      Jay's viewers couldn't change the channel or turn off the TV because he bored them to sleep — the ones who didn't routinely fall asleep in front of the TV at all hours due to their advanced age, anyway. In fact, some of those may have actually been dead. Nielsen still chalks those ones up for Jay's column.

      Oh, and Joan, Letterman is "mean" and insulting, but you think "Kimmel rules?" He is the most insulting host on late night, as evidenced by his absolute shredding of Jay on that otherwise lame '10 at 10' segment.

      Anyway, Jay's ratings will never return — he's lost Conan's entire audience, he's now the lead-in to the mostly mediocre Fallon, he further destroyed NBC's 10 o'clock time slot…. Who's in the wings next, Jeff Zucker?

  4. I wonder how much of this is hurting Leno's image. Maybe his viewers disregard the whole mess and it isn't hurting at all, but his everyman positioning is hard to reconcile with any study of the story.

  5. Speaking of predictions, I believe Howard Stern told Conan almost immediately after his deal to take over the Tonight Show was signed that he was sure Jay (/NBC) was going to screw him out of the show somehow.

    • Should Jay have refused the offer to take it back? Conan already refused to move the time…so he is out. The spot is vacant. Jay is not driving this. Network execs are. I think they should have given it more time. They botched it all up. It was a questionable decision in the first place to put Jay at ten. I like them both. Conan will land solidly on his feet with a show on fox in the fall. But Jay probably wont get the ratings he had cause people like you now believe he is a bully who grabbed his show back.

      • In a word, YES.

        More than a decade and a half ago, I was asked to head up a new section created because of a joint venture between the company I worked for and a British company. Over a period of 6 months, I did the necessary knowledge and skills transfer to someone who reported to me whom I felt was a good candidate to take over my position when I leave for the new section.

        11 months after I moved to the new section, the joint venture collapsed. I was told by my company that I would get my old job back, and that the person that replaced me would be moved back to the previous job. I said no, as it would be extremely unfair to the person that replaced me. When it was apparent that no other position was available, I negotiated a severance package and left to look for a new job.

        Jay should have done the same.

        Incidentally, 3 years ago I was asked by the company to rejoin them. Today, I am happy to call the person that replaced me a colleague and a friend.

        Furthermore, the spot is only vacant because Jay wanted to be back at 11:35. If Jay had said no to the network, Conan would not have even been involved.

        It's a little thing called personal integrity.

      • I don't exactly blame Jay for not refusing to take it back, but not taking it back wouldn't be unprecedented. One of the reasons Conan didn't want to let the Tonight Show be moved back to 12:05 was that he didn't want to screw over Jimmy Fallon. Do you think for one moment that NBC would have taken the show from Conan if Leno had said "I won't take Conan's job from him if you try to force him out"?

        Plus, if you believe "The Late Shift", turning down the Tonight Show itself isn't even unprecedented as NBC was doing so bad in the early years with Leno (even before Letterman moved to CBS) that before he moved to CBS they offered to take the Tonight Show back from Leno and give it to Dave. Now, Letterman didn't refuse out of respect for Jay, he refused because A) he was already fed up with NBC, and B) the Tonight Show was then seen as damaged goods (in the HBO movie I believe it's the Peter Lasally character who points out to Letterman (I'm paraphrasing) "Remember, they're not offering you Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, that's gone. They're offering to give you the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and it's damaged goods".

        The whole "Jay's just an innocent bystander" shtick just doesn't cut it with me. Especially not given the fact that this is the second time he's forced someone away from the Tonight Show (the third time if you believe that Carson left as a response to Leno's management team leaking stories to the New York press that Carson's time was up and NBC wanted to move on). I'm actually willing to cut Leno a bit of slack, and would do so if I felt he was at all sheepish about this all happening again, but like many people, I just respect Leno even less given this whole "innocent victim" act of his.

  6. Jay Leno is the best and has the best guests. He should have NEVER left late night. A talk show can not compete with a drama. Letterman is a boob who NEVER has had a funny thing to say and no good guests.

    • Of course, the "best guests" thing is just another bit of proof that this whole situation was engineered from the beginning to sabotage Conan. You're right that Jay Leno often got great guests on his 10:00 show. Don't you think that hurt Conan? If your Will Smith's management team do you want him promoting his new movie at 10:00 for a prime-time audience or after 11:35 to a late night audience? Putting Jay Leno at 10:00 not only put a show at 10:00 that couldn't compete against the other networks' 10:00 fare, it also cut Conan O'Brien's legs out from under him. There's a reason one show was always in NY and the other in LA, and it's so both shows can still get decent guests. The 10:00 Jay Leno show wasn't just a horrible ratings lead-in for Conan, it also siphoned away some of the best celebrity guests.

      Jay Leno was a ratings loser for almost all of his first TWO YEARS as host of the Tonight Show with freakin' ER as his 10:00 lead in. How was Conan O'Brien ever supposed to succeed in 7 months with the crappy Jay Leno show as his 10:00 lead? Answer: He wasn't.

  7. Why doesn't the IDIOT who thought up this Conan/Leno switch GET FIRED? Why does he get to keep his job? HE WAS WRONG. He should lose his job. I'm sick of incompetence being rewarded.

  8. The NBC execs may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer but they got it right 18 years ago when they chose Leno over Letterman, as proven by the ratings, and they are getting it right this time, which will again be proven by the ratings. David Letterman has to be the most immature person on tv, he always has to try and boost his ego by trashing someone or something ie: Jay, NBC, Sarah Palin. I do not know what anyone sees in his show. Granted, NBC screwed Conan but at least they paid him for it, I wonder if Letterman was as generous with his staff that he screwed. But I guess he'd have to pay something, no woman would certainly have sex with him because he is charming and hunky.

    • You watch late night talk shows for "maturity"?

  9. The people who like Leno are the same kind of people who go through the trouble of consenting to have a ratings box (ok, I don't know if they still use boxes). Ratings aren't a good indicator of actual viewers.

  10. Not much of a problem for me – I'm watching "The Daily Show" at 11:00 and "The Colbert Report" at 11:30. Well, actually 10:00 and 10:30 – I'm an expat Canuck in the Central Time Zone. Much more intelligent television.

  11. Letterman was a mean, smartass, picking on little people, before he ever got the late, late show. I liked Leno better then. In recent years, Letterman mellowed and I began to prefer him. Now he has reverted to his nasty persona again and I am rapidly getting sick of it. O'Brien was a page out of Letterman's book. He, too, was the kind of edgy that does not wear well. He pushed Leno out and could not produce. Letterman flat out lied about what Leno said about blaming O'Brien. What Leno said was that he and no one should blame O'Brien for pushing for the Tonight Show, it was just business. What is so obvious to me is that Leno has always given the impression he likes his audience which Letterman never has. OBrien turned me off early so I don't know if he mellowed or not. However, smart asses, who regularly sneer at most of the potential audience, may be very impressed with themselves but there is a world outside New York and it does not worship oh-so-cool smart asses like Letterman, O'Brien and, oh yeah, Shaffer. They are nearly as smart or cool as they think they are.

    • Right on the money

  12. O'Brien tried to push Leno out and lost. If he got screwed, he screwed himself. I don't see why Leno why is portrayed as the villain for simply doing his job and producing the numbers. It is a bit early to tell but it looks as though NBC wound up with the best man.

    • Totally right.

  13. In the end, Conan has turned out to the most irresponsible of all. This stunt he pulled with the Bugatti Veyron while playing the Rolling Stones song, I can't no satisfaction has cost NBC $1.5 million!!!!! & in the wake of this Haitian disaster where real news stories need to be told. Shame on him. Why didn't someone reign him in. The venom he's been spitting has been in been poor taste & shows that he's a poor sport & loser. I don't think that what's happening to him is fair but it's not cancer. Perspective people!!

    • You really think it cost $1.5 million??? Get a grip. It's comedy…

    • Hahaha youre a dumbass!!

  14. All you Jay Leno Fans out there I never ever thought the man was funny. I have watched Conan for years and find him more amusing than Jay will ever be. I have lost any respect that I have ever had for Jay Leno and I hope NBC rating dive. Though ironically Conan now is more popular and I look forward to seeing him in the future. Free publicity

  15. Who cares? Conan gets a huge bag of money for letting Leno back into the time slot. Letterman isn't funny, Leno is to old timers over 40, Conan is so weird and hard on the eyes he's unwatchable.
    Chelsea Handler is much more entertaining … but then, she's a woman, and no major network will give a woman a chance at that time slot.
    Joan Rivers would do a magnificent job, as long as she keeps away from fat jokes.

  16. Hardly Surprising that many Canadians aren't big Letterman fans. He doesn't appeal to sterile middle of the road blanc mange minds.

  17. That both are good Conan and Jay. They make the most of my Saturday nights.

  18. Leno hid in a freakin closet to gain leverage from overhearing a meeting get the Tonight Show over Letterman.