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February 22, 2024

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    Richard Saker/Contour by Getty Images As we end Black History Month, here is one of my favorite poets, Danez Smith, who writes on intersectionality between their Black and Queer identities. At the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Kansas City, MO, I had the opportunity to personally meet Smith, and they are […]
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Spring Housing Guide

Leno / Conan situation unfair

Late night television has been the talk of the town the past two weeks. For those unfamiliar with the situation, here’s a recap: NBC’s primetime experiment “The Jay Leno Show” is failing. Since NBC is so desperate to prevent Leno from going to a competing network, they want to move his show back to 11:35 p.m., pushing “The Tonight Show,” now hosted by Conan O’Brien, to the less prestigious 12:05 a.m. spot. O’Brien is against the move, and while nothing has been made official, it’s currently the worst kept secret in Hollywood that O’Brien will be leaving “The Tonight Show” on Jan. 22. Based on the rumored settlement deal with NBC, O’Brien will get somewhere near $30 million, as long as he stays off the air until fall. However, this issue is not about money. It is just downright unfair of NBC to harm O’Brien’s show by offering to move it to 12:05 a.m. in order to keep his predecessor on the network, especially since Leno was supposed to retire last year. In a statement about the situation, O’Brien said “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.” He is correct; with a network that has acted as a revolving door for failed show after failed show, “The Tonight Show” has been a constant and an institution of American television. What people forget is when Leno took over “The Tonight Show,” he was not immediately successful, especially compared to his predecessor, Johnny Carson. Leno was constantly in second place behind David Letterman, whom O’Brien replaced on “Late Night” in 1993 (NBC’s pick of Leno over Letterman, against Carson’s wishes, began the long-running feud between the two comedians). Leno finally took the lead over Letterman after actor Hugh Grant appeared on the show to apologize for soliciting sex from a prostitute. That was in 1995, three years after Carson retired, and three years into Leno’s run. NBC didn’t seem to have a problem with Leno trailing Letterman for that long, but suddenly, O’Brien only has seven months to prove himself worthy of the job. It seems NBC is using O’Brien’s ratings troubles as a scapegoat for their failure. It’s NBC’s ratings-challenged primetime lineup (including Leno’s show) that is hurting the local NBC affiliates’ 11 p.m. newscasts, which, in turn, is hurting “The Tonight Show.” NBC’s motivations in keeping Leno on their roster are ironic. It’s been known since 2004 that O’Brien was to take over “The Tonight Show” in 2009, and Leno was set to retire from his position.

When 2009 rolled around, NBC was terrified that Leno would instead jump ship and move to a competing network, and offered him the 10 p.m. timeslot (which was also a cost-cutting move for the network, which has been hemorrhaging money for years) to ensure O’Brien would not be competing against him.

They didn’t want to lose one “Tonight Show” host last year, but they are willing to lose one now. It’s rumored O’Brien will strike a deal with Fox in the coming weeks, which will likely create the situation NBC tried to avoid: another competitor for “The Tonight Show.”

NBC is once again banking on Jay Leno to make up for their failures. They are under the impression that even though no one watched Leno at 10 p.m., they will flock back to him at 11:35 p.m. I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to be the case.

The audiences of Leno and O’Brien’s shows vary greatly. O’Brien’s humor skews younger, and few fans outside of the precious 18-49 demographic watch his show. In other words, if people did not find O’Brien funny these last seven months, they’ve likely switched to “The Late Show” (Letterman’s ratings have increased in recent months). If NBC thinks they are going to regain all the viewers they’ve lost to Letterman’s brand of humor (or to anger at NBC and Leno over this debacle), they will probably be in for a rude awakening. Additionally, since Leno skews older, an O’Brien move to Fox will ensure they keep the younger demographic in their pockets. No matter what one thinks of Leno’s and O’Brien’s humor, O’Brien has not been given a fair chance to prove his worth, and “The Tonight Show” in its current form is in danger as a result of its previous host and the poor business decisions of the network.

I am “Team Coco,” and will miss O’Brien on NBC, but it may be for the best that he cuts ties with such an incompetent network.

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