Conan will survive NBC’s betrayal

Mike Crissman

On Monday, Jay Leno will return to “The Tonight Show,” a show he and millions of others know rightly belongs to Conan O’Brien.

It is a show Leno began hosting in 1992. In 2004, he made a deal with NBC to give the hallowed late-night talk show to Conan in five years. And in 2009, he stuck to the plan and handed the reins over to the redheaded comedian. Instead of riding off into retirement in one of the 200 vintage cars he owns, Leno decided he wanted to remain on television.

In a stroke of poor judgment, NBC scrapped its 10 p.m. scripted drama programming and gave the time slot to ol’ Big Chin, Monday through Friday. And so “The Jay Leno Show” was born. It was a revolutionary idea that was supposed to completely change the game of primetime TV.

Sadly, Leno didn’t pull in anywhere near the amount of viewers the network had hoped for. NBC local news affiliates around the country complained of a significant drop in lead-in viewership since the show’s inception. Many said they would stop airing it. The network needed a Plan B. Like many bullies throughout history, they targeted a ginger.

Poor Conan O’Brien was only seven months into his run as host of “The Tonight Show” before NBC decided to pull the plug. Well, they weren’t exactly pulling the plug. They were just going to give Leno a half-hour show at 11:35 p.m. and bump Conan’s “Tonight Show” to 12:05 a.m. (which might as well be called “The Tomorrow Show”). Under NBC’s proposed plan, Jimmy Fallon would also be bumped, to 1:05 a.m., and God only knows what would happen to Carson Daly.

Feeling slighted, Conan declined NBC’s offer, saying, “I 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.”

Conan left the show Jan. 22 with class, support from fans, and a hefty — but fair — paycheck. He received a reported sum of $32 million to leave NBC, with $12 million for his staff. This may sound like an egregious amount of money, but consider that the staff of more than 200 expected its new job to last longer than seven months. After moving themselves and their families from New York to California when Conan left “Late Night” almost one year ago, they suddenly found themselves out of work in an economy that’s rough, to say the least.

However, Coco won’t be vacationing on a beach, tanning his pale Irish self, for long. It looks as if he might embark on a theater tour, performing aspects of his past TV show along with new stage-appropriate elements across the country and abroad.

He is also rumored to be in negotiations with FOX, which has expressed serious interest in having a late-night talk show of its own. Conan, though, would have to wait until Sept. 1 to appear on television again, as his deal with NBC stipulates.

The moral of the story is that good things can come from a disaster. Despite losing a show that he waited his whole life to have, Conan O’Brien has gained a large new fan base that may not have watched his show much in the past. People root for the underdog, and just like a clichéd movie, it looks as if he’ll come out on top — stronger, funnier and better than ever.

The whole NBC debacle has cast Conan in a much more favorable light than Leno. Metaphorically speaking, Leno is seen as the evil white man who came to America and raped the native’s land. Conan is Squanto.

Leno has tried salvaging his public image since the fiasco began. In a ploy for sympathy, he went on Oprah trying to seem like the victim. He also tried making light of his unpopularity in the recent Super Bowl commercial with David Letterman. It’s all swing and a miss as far as I’m concerned.

The bottom line is Leno and the bigwigs at NBC treated Conan like dirt. If and when Coco returns to late-night television this fall, he and his hair will come back in a blaze of glory, getting everything they deserve and then some.

Mike Crissman is a freshman journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].