Previously on late-night talk show theater a.k.a. The Late Shift 2: This Time It’s Personal a.k.a. Not Without My Pomade: His Network Hit Him and He Wept Alone: Mother, May I Sleep With Fox: The Conan O’Brien Story, Joel told you a tale of betrayal and intrigue and sandwiches. We know now that his story speaks only of the early days of what will surely become the true defining war of this decade: Team Conan vs. Team Leno.
If you’re reading this, I’m semi-sure I know what team you’re on, because you’re using the Internet and it doesn’t appear to be interfering with your pacemaker or LifeCall Medic Alert bracelet. Team Coco is the only way as far as we’re concerned. As Joel reminded us, Leno is being rewarded for failing at his job. And Conan? He’s getting completely screwed.
What did our lovable ginger ever do to anyone? Conan has done nothing but serve the show to the best of his abilities, abilities far superior to Leno to be sure. He got rid of beloved characters because they didn’t fit the time slot, characters like the Masturbating Bear, Horny Manatee and FedEx Pope. He has done his string dance once (I believe) since starting The Tonight Show, and that was last Friday when the news had come out. Post-fancy-dance, he made a couple jokes at NBC’s expense, but remained largely polite.
That was Friday. Then came Monday.
Monday night, Conan basically pimp-slapped the mascara-streaked fluid-caked ho that is NBC and told a bitch what’s what. His monologue was one of the funniest of the new show’s history, and he spared no feelings in unleashing on everyone involved.
Then on Tuesday, shit got real. Conan released his I-hope-it-becomes-the-new-Gettysburg-Address letter telling the world he would not be moving to 12:05 (11:05CT, because NO ONE includes we Midwesterners in these timeslot debates).
I quote, in part:
Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot.That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.
So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.
Later, The New York Times got the word out about the Twitter Riots of 2k10 (may they build a statue in our honor). And in my favorite story of the ever, Consumerist released the email addresses of NBC execs AND JEFF ZUCKER’S PHONE NUMBER! I dare you to call him. Do it and please, please, post about it in the comments.
To me, NBC’s choices have been despicable and careless towards a man who uprooted his family and the families of his entire staff after being promised his dream job. But more than anything else, the choices have been idiotic. When it comes to the behind-the-scenes inner-workings of the television industry, I am only as well-versed as one can be from reading trades and blogs. And yet I, and so many of you, can see how unabashedly stupid this is, and how stupid it was to create the 10 p.m. Leno show. We should not be smarter than them.
I am not quick to say this either. I have a big problem with armchair politicians ragging on the more intricate decisions of Washington, simply because we have the luxury of not having to deal with the politics within the politics. And I’m often bothered by the couch critics, the ones who give up on a TV show when it stops going their way and speak of how they’d completely change everything, because they don’t have to be bothered with the networks and the advertisers. But what I can completely agree with are those of us that think this is wrong, because it’s more than an opinion based on an industry many of us take no part in; it’s about the ethics of how a company treats an employee.
To them, Conan is just that: an employee, and one they’re treating terribly. But to us, his loyal and longtime fans, he’s helped shape our sense of what comedy is. I took to Twitter, and saw that I was not alone in feeling this way. Say my tweeps (and Roger Ebert):
ebertchicago I agree: A touching statement from Conan. NBC = No Bloody Conscience.
jimmyrabbitte Mr. O'Brien wrote my favorite Simpsons episodes, and introduced me to the 'Central Time Zone Countdown.' My sense of humor owes him one. I wouldn't be doing what I love if it wasn't for Conan O'Brien.
Berlination I never got serious about writing comedy and understanding what was actually funny until I watched Conan for the first time.
gorphax84 There's only 2 people I know who can be rewarded when they fail. One is Jay Leno and the other is his chin. CoCo forever!
onewallroom Good for Conan for sticking to his guns & eloquently sticking the knife to NBC & slowly turning it in his statement today.
imattmypants I pray that now EVERY LAST AMERICAN understands how TERRIBLE Jay Leno is and that whateverthef*ck show he has now gets IGNORED BY ALL.
megan_maria I really hate how many lives & careers @NBC is fucking with for Jay Leno. What assholes.
I’ve never had any personal vendetta against Leno. I don’t find him funny in the same way I don’t find Adam Sandler flicks or any Ben Stiller movie that isn’t Zoolander funny. They’re just kind of lowest common denominator harmless funny (except for I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry – that shit was harm-fraught) for people that just don’t particularly care about comedy.
And that’s okay. Conan’s audience is generally appreciative that he’s not necessarily for everyone. Except that he’s done whatever it takes to become for everyone, without pandering or dumbing himself down. For the first time in recent memory – in fact, for the first time since Carson – a comedian has been smart and attempted to appeal to the majority at the same time. Conan is the Carson for a generation who only got Carson for the early part of their lives but know enough to respect Carson as the god he is. And, like with Carson, when I’m my grandpa’s age, I too will have a set of the best of Conan that I’ll watch with my grandkids so they appreciate true comedy. And it makes me sad that that set apparently won’t also proudly read The Tonight Show in shiny letters.
In the words of Dark Helmet, “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.” Unfortunately, in reality, the evil people are dumb, the good people are smart and there’s fewer of the smart. Le sigh.
Courtney Enlow is a writer living in Chicago and working as a corporate shill to pay the bills. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.