Leno the Barbarian

Despite what Jay says, he’s not the victim.

You can do anything you want in life, unless Jay Leno wants to do it too.  At least that’s what soon-to-be former Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien says.  But as further developments come forth in the NBC late night fiasco, it is becoming more and more evident that the truth is not far off.

You’ve no doubt heard of the storm brewing in late night television.  The Jay Leno Show has failed and the Tonight Show was to be pushed back to accommodate Leno at a later time.  Conando declined the move in a surprisingly classy letter to the New York Times and the rest is television history.

In reality, the source of the problem was the announcement in early 2009 that Jay Leno would take on a primetime comedy show, after he planned to retire and give Conan O’Brien the Tonight Show.  NBC panicked when Jay Leno started shopping around with other networks instead of going home to wax his cars.  Jay shrunk down his Tonight Show and plopped it down at 10PM, effectively stealing Conan’s thunder right from the start.  Seventeen years being the entertainment centrepiece apparently wasn’t enough.

With Conan’s show in its infancy, the disastrous Jay Leno Show diverted massive amounts of viewers away from NBC and the local 11PM news.  Bleeding advertising revenue, the local affiliates even threatened to boycott Leno’s show.

Conan never had a chance with no lead-in; an essential component for late-night success.  While Jay Leno had the juggernaut ‘Must See TV’ line-up behind him, Conan O’Brien had ‘Community’ and the Jay Leno Show.  On January 8th, NBC announced they would shorten Leno’s show and wedge it between the news and the Tonight Show, now airing at 12:05AM.  Conan of course did the unthinkable and rejected their offer, throwing away his dream while protecting the 60 year history of the show.

As soon as the event broke, the online world was thrown into a frenzy.  Team Conan groups and fan pages popped up everywhere.  As of this writing, the ‘I’m with COCO’ Facebook page is packed with over 720,000 fans who organized rallies in LA, New York and Chicago.  Conan’s appeal to a younger demographic has always been his strength. His modern audience is willing to have fun and get involved.  How is the Jay Leno Facebook page faring you ask?  It’s been overtaken by disgruntled Conan fans.

Celebrities like Howard Stern, Rosie O’Donnell and David Letterman have publicly spoken out against Jay.  They paint the picture of a man obsessed with success, desperate to keep telling the same old jokes.  Jimmy Kimmel even proceeded to destroy Jay on his own show, while Jay just stood there mumbling.  Improvisational comedy is clearly not his strong suit. At the end of the segment begging Jay to step down, Leno closed with a remorseless “A plea from Jimmy Kimmel, everyone.”

Jay Leno has repeatedly tried to play the victim, citing poor management on behalf of NBC and avoided the question of why he doesn’t just quit.  He has giggled about being cancelled many times on his show, but seems to overlook the fact that you can’t really call it cancellation if they’re promoting you back to the Tonight Show.  On his January 18th show he gave a speech laying out the entire situation in a positive light, even complimenting Conan himself.  Jay is smart enough to know he needs some damage control.  He even pulled the manipulative ‘unemployment card,’ citing his desire to ‘keep his people working.’  He neglected to mention, however, why he needed to threaten to go to another network in the first place.

Both NBC and Jay Leno have missed this golden opportunity in front of them to come out as heroes.  All Jay had to do was walk away.  Everyone would be happy and Conan’s ratings, boosted by this mess, would hopefully hold tight.  Comedian Patton Oswalt said it best: ‘Why does he want this so bad?’  Jay Leno is a rich man who somehow even came out shining after the early 90’s Letterman debacle. He would have gone out on top.  Time will tell if his tarnished reputation will recover from this PR disaster and how diminished his aging Tonight Show audience will be. 

As for Conan, a loyal and young fan base is now strengthened and more unified than it ever was before. Whatever network picks him up brings along the prize of a large group of dedicated, die-hard fans…plus Andy Richter…and LaBamba. 

Matt Williams


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One Response to Leno the Barbarian

  1. Furluge says:

    The biggest problem with Leno’s little damage control speech is it doesn’t hold up against the body of past information and videos, which thanks to the internet are preserved for eternity. http://www.therestrainingorder.com/?p=2250

    Right now I’m composing a letter informing my local NBC affiliate, WAVY, explaining why after about 20+ of living in their market and watching their news broadcast that after Friday I will be turning their channel off forever. I hope they enjoy reading it.

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