The Conan Travesty, Part 2

Hell yeah! Stick it to The Man!

Conan announced this afternoon that he would not accept NBC’s choice to move him back to 12:05 a.m.

His stated reasons were clear, unselfish, and reasonable: The Tonight Show has aired after the local news since it came on the air. Bumping it back half an hour would hurt its brand and change its legacy (according to Conan, it would also hurt the legacy of Late Night, but didn’t making Jimmy Fallon host already pretty much kill that show’s integrity?). The unstated but clear implication of Conan’s statement, also, is that it doesn’t really matter what you call it: If you air a comedy talk-show at 11:35 on NBC, particularly if it’s hosted by the same guy who hosted Tonight a year ago, then that’s going to be viewed as the “real” Tonight Show. The ratings and image of Tonight (and Late Night) can only be hurt by this move, so Conan “cannot participate in…its destruction.”

Conan’s statement is very diplomatic not just because it takes the focus entirely off of him and puts in on NBC’s storied late-night franchises, but because it puts the ball back into NBC’s court. He’s only quitting if NBC goes through with its stated move. In other words, this isn’t just wounded pride or personal resentment—he’s willing to let the issue go; he just disagrees strongly with the decision.

So here’s what probably happens next: First, NBC sticks to its guns and tires to make Conan appear ungrateful and uncooperative. Then, with Conan gone, NBC give Leno his old job back and The Tonight Show becomes what it was a year ago: A place for presidential candidates to spew platitudes and for a monologue with repetitive jokes about current events. The ratings are going to skyrocket.

Meanwhile Conan, who denies having received other job offers (although Fox is almost certainly ready with one), goes to another network, if not immediately, then in a year or so. The pressure of living up to Johnny Carson and Jay Leno will be off him at Fox, where he’d be building from scratch.

Initially, this will be probably be a success for NBC (or at least what qualifies for one at that network). The Tonight Show will see a bump in the ratings, and local affiliates will be happier without The Jay Leno Show killing the 11 p.m. audience. Conan will also probably struggle initially, no matter where he is, before midnight.

But how long will this success last? Jay Leno will turn 60 in a few months; Johnny Carson retired at the age of 66. Is Jimmy Fallon going to host The Tonight Show in six years? Meanwhile, Conan is 13 years younger than Leno, and his audience is 10 years younger. By the time Leno finally does retire, I wouldn’t be surprised if Conan has eclipsed him, not just in terms of creativity and comedy, but also in terms of popularity and relevance. But thanks to NBC’s ineptitude, he’ll be doing this on another network.

5 responses to this post.

  1. […] may have been a little hasty in calling the Conan/Leno situation a “travesty” (twice!). It actually seems to be doing wonders for Conan’s career. Team Conan is swelling. His […]


  2. […] paid very close attention to Conan O’Brien’s messy divorce from NBC back in January. Well, instead of going to Fox as everyone expected, Coco got a deal with TBS. Alan […]


  3. […] on TV since he was booted from The Tonight Show in January. Back then, if you recall, I lamented what I referred to as “The Conan Travesty.” Now, though, he is going to TBS, and all is right with the […]


  4. […] return of Conan O’Brien to late-night. And while the excitement won’t match the excitement that surrounded The Tonight Show back in January, it will certainly be fun to see what Conan does without the […]


  5. […] you haven’t been paying attention to this blog for the last 11 months, then you may not have realized that I was looking forward to last night’s premiere of Conan on TBS. I haven’t even minded all the […]


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