Armchair Mogul
The (backseat) driving force behind Hollywood. Way behind.

The Tonight Show: A Survival Guide

Hey, HERE’S an unpopular opinion…

Jay Leno is right.

BAM!  Deal with that.  You can’t?  Alright, lemme explain…

I, like everyone else under 70, LOVE Conan O’Brien.  I’ve always loved him and I shed tears of happiness for him when he got his dream gig as host of The Tonight Show.

And like everyone else under 70, I booed NBC and Jay Leno when I heard they were kicking Conan out of said dream job after only 7 months.

But here’s the thing…Showbiz is tough.  It’s tough to break in and easy as hell to get left behind.  Fame is fleeting and anyone who can get a job in the biz can count themselves among the luckiest people in the world.  It takes thick skin to survive and even thicker skin to flourish.  You need to be able to take the incredible highs with the incredible lows.  And let’s face it, the lows of Hollywood really mean you’re just back down here with us again, right?  Most times, even a little bit above.

But let’s take a chin’s eye view of this situation from Jay Leno’s perspective:

He had an insanely successful run as host of The Tonight Show.  Then NBC told him “We’re giving your show to O’Brien.”  Leno said, “Okay, sure.”

Then NBC said, “We’re giving you your own show.” Leno said “Okay, sure.”

Then NBC said, we’re moving you to your old time slot.  Leno said “Okay, sure.”

Then finally, NBC said, “O’brien’s not playing ball, we’re giving you back The Tonight Show.”

What would YOU have said?  Really.  If someone gave you your dream job, but 7 months later said you had to move to a different office but with the same job description and pay, what would you do, keeping in mind it’s your DREAM JOB?  Crack some jokes at your boss’s expense?  Sure.  Grumble behind his back?  Of course.  Angle for more money?  Maybe.  But would you REFUSE to change offices?  Think about that.

Meanwhile, Leno must think everyone’s an idiot.  He must think of O’Brien’s letter, “Really?  We’ve got the best gig in television on a network you’ve been with for 17 years and you’re making a stand about THIS?  A TV Show?  Moving a HALF HOUR??  Dude, do you know how lucky we are to even have these jobs?”

And I have to say, I agree.  It’s really great that Conan grabbed a cool $12 million for his crew’s severance, but don’t you think they’d have been more stoked to keep  their stable jobs?  I mean, sure the show would air a half hour later, but that doesn’t change their salary or work hours. They’d still be home with their families at the same time.  No skin off their backs.

At the end of the day, showbiz, for all its glitz and glamour – is inconsequential.  Especially talk shows.  They don’t bring worlds together, they don’t feed the needy, house the homeless or really serve any human necessity.  You can argue that it feeds our need to laugh but on the other hand, shut up.  It’s a privilege to be on TV, not a right.  You don’t have a right to host a show and you certainly don’t have a right to a time slot.

I still think NBC’s the bad guy here.  But Leno?  Leno’s doing what it takes to survive a tough industry in tough times.  And in O’Brien’s case, it would’ve been as easy as saying “Okay, sure.”

In closing, I leave you with this Tonight Show trivia ripped straight from the pages of Wikipedia:

On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar walked off [the Tonight Show] for a month after NBC censors edited out a segment taped the night before about a joke involving a “W.C.” (water closet, a polite term for a flush toilet) being confused for a “Wayside Chapel.” As he left his desk, he said, “I am leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way of making a living than this.” Paar’s abrupt departure left his startled announcer, Hugh Downs, to finish the broadcast himself.

Paar returned to the show on March 7, 1960, strolled on stage, struck a pose, and said, “As I was saying before I was interrupted…”  After the audience erupted in applause, Paar continued, “When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living.  Well, I’ve looked…and there isn’t.”


11 Responses to “The Tonight Show: A Survival Guide”

  1. I don’t think Jay Leno thinks Conan’s an idiot for not “playing ball”. Why? Because in 1992, he wouldn’t play ball either when something similar was threatened to happen to him 7 months into his run. Luckily for Jay Carson wasn’t hanging around in the lobby saying, “Yeah, you know, I’ll be here if you need me.” like Jay has been, otherwise Jay would have been dead before he started too.

    Here’s a good rundown in case you needed it. Jay’s statements are so full of contradictions you could put them into a Phoenix Wright game.

  2. You WOULD write this…just to be the one saying something different. 🙂

    Maybe I didn’t understand the whole situation behind Leno losing the Tonight Show to Conan to begin with…I was under the impression Leno was retiring…not being fired. If it’s true he lost his position because Conan was doing so well, then I guess I don’t see why Leno’s a bad guy for taking his position back when it’s being offered…not a BAD guy, but not a very bright one. This puts him in a really bad light…and after this past year, he could have used some really, really flattering, Oprah set lighting. He should have bowed out gracefully, and left with a small semblance of dignity by retiring when he said he would. The man has more money and cars than God anyway. This whole thing seems to be adding insult to injury for Leno…the injury being that our ears bleed when we watch his show and hear his seismically lame jokes. And I really think the Tonight Show will suffer because of it, but…who knows?

    Maybe it wasn’t the safest thing for Conan to do, but I admire him for standing up for what he believes in…and I think he’s both talented and rich enough that he doesn’t have to be that thick-skinned anymore…I think he’s earned the right (or, privilege, if you prefer) to stick to his guns when he believes the network is degrading a show he grew up watching and admiring. Maybe Conan made a mistake by biting the hand that’s been feeding him for so long, feeing bullied by NBC to accomodate a mistake they made to begin with. That’s showbiz, I guess, but even so, he obviously wouldn’t have risked it if he needed the job so badly…I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of him. Sadly, the same may be true of Leno.

    I’m not sure if he really was doing it partly to stick up for Jimmy Fallon’s show either, but Conan sure looks like a great guy for adding that to his list of why to put his giant green hulk foot down.

    Obviously NBC is the bad guy, but Leno just looks like a shmuck now. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but I definitely don’t think he’s funny or talented enough to keep around…and there’s something to be said for not overstaying your welcome…even in–no, ESPECIALLY in hollywood.

    I think Conan took a gamble…maybe he lost, maybe not. Maybe he wanted out–who knows? But at least he doesn’t look like the pansy who wouldn’t play a hand…


    I don’t see any contradictions in Leno’s statements. I’ll address the points in your link one at a time:

    Managers: He’s exactly right. It’s a manager’s job to be ruthless on behalf of their client. Helen Kushnick did it for him and now I’m sure Conan’s manager is trying to do it for Conan. This isn’t a contradiction at all. This is Leno telling you how it is.

    Leno not retiring: It’s not a crime to accept work. Leno was number 1 in the ratings FOREVER. And he was being asked to leave prematurely. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask “what’s in it for me?” When the answer comes back “a primetime show”, no one should begrudge the man an opportunity to work. The big difference between what’s happening now and what happened with Johnny Carson is this: You remember all those TV shows and specials Carson did after he retired from The Tonight Show? No? Exactly. There weren’t any. Carson played golf, sipped martinis and enjoyed his life. Why? Because he retired. Voluntarily. You think if, when Leno wasn’t performing as expected, NBC wouldn’t have taken Johnny back in a heartbeat if they thought they could get him? Of course they would. But they couldn’t…because Johnny decide he was DONE WORKING.

    I don’t get that impression with Leno. Leno wasn’t done. He likes working. Hell, the man STILL did stand up, even during all those years he was hosting The Tonight Show. He LOVES to work. He loves being on TV. That’s not a crime. His boss asked him to step down and he agreed. Dude, you’ve seen documentaries about Hollywood, you know how it is. They ask you to do something, then they ask you to make a statement about that thing. You play ball or you’re off the field. So Leno does what he’s asked because he knows this whole thing is all a game. Other than the jobs, other people’s ability to sustain their lifestyles and support families, none of it is important. Conan broke the first law of comedy…he took himself seriously. And it cost jobs.

    8 months becomes 18 months – AKA Hollywood math: Dude, we have NO IDEA what was in his contract. You’ve no doubt heard that Conan was being asked to not appear on TV for almost a year after leaving NBC, you really think it’d be any different for Leno? A guy who, unlike Conan, proved on paper he can conquer the 11:30 time slot? Come on. NBC sees Leno as a valuable asset and it’s completely reasonable he’d have a no-compete clause in his contract, even after termination. Hell, even I had that in MY contract for a while! And I’m not ratings giant : )

    NBC’s 10pm track record: Yes. Jay probably did know what would happen in the 10pm slot. As he stated in his monologue. No contradiction. And no, Jay wasn’t forced to do the show. As he stated in his monologue. But again, I don’t see why you’re against the guy accepting work. If you think he should’ve turned down the work so as to help his buddy Conan out, just keep in mind that as you pointed out, it was Conan forcing NBC’s hand that got Leno kicked out of The Tonight Show in the first place. If Jay’s acceptance of the offer to host a primetime show is what you think he did wrong, we’ll just have to agree to disagree, or preferably, agree that your opinion is incorrect : )

    Leno’s “lobbying” for his old show back: I don’t like to base arguments on conjecture, so instead of guessing what he said behind closed doors, I’ll address public knowledge. And that is this: letting your boss know you’re still available to work isn’t a bad thing. It’s not even a mean thing. Now, letting your boss know you’re still available to work if the guy they hired to replace you (before you were ready to go) isn’t doing the job right? In my opinion, it’s only wrong if you promised someone you wouldn’t do that. Jay owes NOTHING to Conan.

    Leno not taking Carson Daly’s spot: Why should he? That’s like asking Steven Spielberg to work the video section at Walmart. He made a fortune for NBC. But it was never offered so I don’t see the relevance.

    Leno’s belief that Conan would’ve taken the deal: I did. Why wouldn’t he? Did anyone really foresee Conan’s stance on 12:05 coming?

    And about that, I know Conan loves The Tonight Show and considers it important, but in my opinion, that letter had little to do with the destruction of a talk show. I think it was about making a stand for himself. It was about letting his bosses know he’s done being pushed around by a network that doesn’t appreciate him. I can respect that.

    What I don’t respect is people mistaking this for heroism. Heroism isn’t putting your pride before others. In fact, it’s the opposite. Heroism is doing whatever it takes to keep your family fed and watching out for the well being of the people in your care. Gambling your job and the jobs of all your employees over a 30 minute difference on a show that was losing to the competition, well, that’s not just a bad bet, it’s distinctly non heroic.

    And or the record, I’ve NEVER watched the Jay Leno Show or The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, I’m a HUGE fan of Conan’s and I prefer Apollo Justice.

  4. Pie:
    You know I don’t find Leno funny in the least. And I agree, Leno looks like a shmuck…but in the end, he’s the guy who looks like a shmuck but kept hs people employed.

    Conan saved face but lost everyone their jobs.

    If we were talking about something of actual, measurable importance like freedom of speech or the pusuit of happiness, I’d totally side with Coco.

    But really, it’s a TV show. An outlet for rich people to peddle their wares. What’s a half hour weighed against 200 jobs of people who moved across the country out of loyalty to their boss? You really think everyone in the crew thought The Tonight Show airing at 11:35 was worth losing their jobs over? I have my doubts.

    And yeah, The Tonight Show jokes will probably suffer with Jay’s return…but if history is any indication, it’ll suffer all the way to the bank.


  6. I know I’m probably going to get some flack for this, but I don’t think that EITHER of them deserve it.

    Like any other show, if you dont get rating, you get the axe. I think Leno and Conan have both failed and I think the Tonight Show should go to Jimmy Fallon.

    Now, before you bite my head off, I’m suprised at how many people dislike Jimmy Fallon’s how, he is actually REALLY FUNNY! Everyone should give him a chance! Watch his show and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Aside from NBC and Letterman on CBS, late night shows are really non-exsistant. I think Fallon has shown that he can hold his own, he’s young and he’s not as irreverant as Conan, but not really as “old humor” as Leno. Perfect for the Tonight Show.

    I think Fallon has proven himself to stand up to the greats. He’s around the same age as Jonny Carson when he started so he could be on for a long time!
    Conan actually just annoys me so I’m kind of happy he’s gone.

  7. Wow Aymie, that is definitely NOT a popular opinion, tell us a little more behind you thinking.

  8. Well, I didnt ask you to agree with me.
    Conan is ANNOYING! His voice is annoying, he looks like a freak and his hair is dumb. Good riddance, we need new people on tv.

  9. […] Six days ago, we posted a rather unpopular opinion…that Jay Leno wasn’t the bad guy in this Late Night shake up.  Read it HERE. […]

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