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.”

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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.