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.”