Thoughts and Predictions: Conan O’Brien on his Jan. 12th “The Tonight Show”
I’m writing this at roughly 5 pm Mountain Time, so roughly 6ish hours before Conan takes to the airwaves for The Tonight Show of January 12. It’s just a rough predictions post, but I want to get these words out into cyberspace before anything happens.
I’m a Child of Conan.
Growing up in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Leno was always establishment (to a significantly larger degree than Letterman), Conan always The Outsider. Leno would do blah parodies and Crazy Ads segments and Jaywalking, Conan was employing a masturbating bear. Even though I never saw Carson, any time I saw old tapes of The Tonight Show, it was obvious that Conan had obsessed over the man and was doing his best to emulate Johnny and add to the show’s considerable legacy. Leno didn’t have the walk out like Johnny did, he didn’t have the charming rough edges that Johnny did, he had forgettable interviews with celebrities that Johnny did not have. But ultimately, the worst thing I could say about Leno was that he was unworthy of memory- I’ll never have a single Jay Leno Memory in my history of watching TV. Until now.
Look, I don’t imagine that most of this uproar, culminating earlier today with Conan’s pitch-perfect letter to the public, is Leno’s fault. Anyone with any vague awareness of the history of Jeff Zucker’s tenure as President, then CEO, of NBC and NBCU has been a clusterzuck. Google “Ben Silverman” for a taste. But there is some small part that Leno has played: he continually and cravenly grovelled before NBC execs to continue to have a spot in the evening lineup. It shows an amazing lack of perspective on Leno’s part- does anyone really believe that he would have had the success he enjoyed if Johnny Carson had continued to hang around the NBC lots like Leno has?
In any case, Conan’s supposed to come out tonight with another new episode, and the world is curious as to what O’Brien will do. Will he dramatically quit on the air? Will he publicly excoriate Leno and NBC execs? Or will he act as if his statement today was a behind-the-scenes non-factor for his show? The possibilities are legion. Last night’s monologue had plenty of zingers directed at his bosses and predecessor, so where does he go from there?
My guess: he places a few more barbs in at his employers, but does nothing too drastic. He knows he’s in the power position, and all he has to do is continue to place steady pressure on NBC and remain the classy-but-insistent gentleman he’s been so far. A brief perusal of the internet shows that public opinion has roaringly backed Conan in this dispute, and he’d be a fool to waste it. And I know this: after all the thousands of hours I’ve spent watching the man, I know he’s no fool.