Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Morning Midway: But Why Bash Jay Leno?

NBC exec Dick Ebersol on Conan O'Brien: "An astounding failure."

And there's Jimmy Kimmel spoofing Jay Leno. I agree, Leno's opening hand shake ritual is sooooooo second-coming smarmy.

Look. I've never been much of a fan of any of them. I've gone back and forth between Jay and Dave, rarely watching either of their shows all the way through. Sometimes I think Letterman has the better monologue, but other times Leno.

This big media ruckus is rather ridiculous, and not a little contrived. But what a comedy harvest; both Letterman and Leno are hitting the heights tossing wicked little darts at each other, mostly at the brain-dead NBC guns who engineered this programming chaos. Latest, arising out of Conan O'Brien's uppity refusal to go on after midnight, is that NBC boss Jeff Zucker, "is threatening to ice Conan." That shouldn't be hard. Heck, I think I'm funnier.

And even if the NBC movers and shakers are pitifully inept, Ebersol is absolutely right about the O'Brien fiasco. Look at how poorly he has performed. So poorly, that NBC is reportedly handing this spoil sport $30 million just to leave; boy, what a talent he must have. One thing he doesn't lack is an inflated sense of importance, believing he is owed a slot he can't attract a decent audience to. (He just backed out of a sold-out San Francisco show this weekend.) This guy's already damaged goods, and I'm predicting he's soon to be starring in that junk heap of failed late night talkers. You either produce ratings or you don't produce ratings, period, pull the flush chord, please. Okay, I'm having my own devious fun.

Why should we feel sorry for the fate of any TV host, given the millions they've made? I tried Conan a few years ago, wanting to find a late night personality both amusing and likable. I was dumbfounded at how numbingly unfunny Conan was. Maybe I just didn't get it, or maybe he's improved. In truth, I am still ruing the exit of Johnny Carson, and more than that, before that my idol Jack Paar (who combined comedy and conversation as nobody else). I thought I found a potential new Carson (good easy-to-take looks unlike Leno or Letterman, classy grace at the desk and a bent for creative humor) in Crag Killborn. Wanting to be a movie star, he turned his back on his late Late Show and chased after a career in the movies that went no where.

But why bash Leno? He was the king of late night, and O'Brien is pulling in about half the audience. Several reckless years ago, when NBC made known their plan to ease Jay out (before he was even 60; Johnny retired at 65, I think), I thought, how incredibly stupid. Especially given O'Brien's limited assets. Why push out a clear winner for a half-talent??

When Jay returns to the 11:35 PM slot, I will be up to watch it. He'll probably wrack up all-time high Tonight Show ratings. And then I'll turn the TV off and go back to sleep. And forget all about it.

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