I’m with Conan
I’m going to start by saying that I am an advocate against how much television this country watches. I don’t have a problem with TV itself, but I have an issue with the quality of the programming. There is so much – excuse me – shit on television these days. Anyways, that’s not my point. I mainly just say that so that I can put my foot down on this without seeming like a couch-lurking American sociopath (there are lots of them).
I didn’t watch much late-night TV growing up. Bedtime usually claimed me before Leno or Conan, but on the rare night where my parents fell asleep before me, I remember flipping through channels, seeing Jay Leno, and making a mental note to come back to that channel at 12:00. Why? Conan. I loved watching Conan. Leno wasn’t funny. All he did was have hot-shot celebrities on the show and made so-so jokes while they made bad ones in return, then he had a musical guest. Conan, now Conan was funny. Just the way he spoke and moved, Conan was funny, and he still is. His smile, his true gratitude for what he gets to do every night, and his ability to laugh at himself made him so easy to love.
Leno might be able to laugh at himself, and maybe he has a nice smile and seems funny to some people, but he’s no better than Conan. Regardless of their merits as late-night show hosts, Conan has had this spot lined up for himself for the last six years. NBC has a contractual obligation to give him this spot. Conan has done nothing to lose the spot, and has not really had the chance to fully settle in to The Tonight Show. The problem is that Jay Leno, king of late-night comedy, is in a fit because his show, which he seemed so casually invested in knowing the risks of a show that early, is failing. NBC, in a desperate effort to save its ratings and pet the ego of their golden goose, is completely disregarding the talents and ability of the two other hosts that their move would hurt. Jimmy Fallon, who I personally don’t find to be funny, but has not had a chance to get used to his role as a late-night host, would be without a slot and therefore off the nighttime schedule. Conan O’Brien, who is in my opinion the best late-night comedy host during my lifetime, would be pushed back into a too-late-for-good-ratings slot.
Here’s what it comes down to: It’s Conan’s spot. It was Leno’s, and he lost it. It wasn’t lack of talent. It wasn’t offensive material. It was simply an expired contract. He had a good run, he made a ton of money, and he made a great name for himself. Leno needs to step aside and let Conan do the same for himself, and maybe Fallon after him. The world has too many people who won’t let go of their professions, who could go out as legends, but instead fade into irrelevance. Leno took that risk when he decided to do an earlier show this year, and he needs to stop now, while the majority of his career is considered a success.