The Late Night War: Team CoCo

I have to admit, I was Team CoCo before it was cool. Now, I’m not trying to brag (wait, yes I am), but I was an avid watcher of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien from the beginning. I had always preferred his Late Night franchise to Craig Ferguson’s silly Scottish antics, and found Conan’s 10:35 PM show to be pretty similar-a bigger-budget, slightly more professional version that retained the sloppy, irreverent humor that only young people seem to have enjoyed. So, of course, after several months had passed, I was shocked to find that NBC was considering taking him off the Tonight Show due to ratings and Jay Leno’s buttcrack of a show. To be honest, I thought Leno was retiring, and the 10pm show was like a senior-discount meal: earlier and smaller, an intermediary into nursing-home pills and liquids. Moving Leno back seemed stupid and possibly harmful to his health. But more shocking was the fact that NBC was reportedly willing to even consider removing Conan out of the blue. I mean, what kind of disconnected, holier-than-thou board of directors suddenly cuts one of their most important leaders down in the middle of his/her contract without justification from the community and based on arbitrary concerns of mediocrity?! Wait… About half of the current AHS student body had been born when Late Night with Conan O’Brien premiered in September 1993, taking the slot from David Letterman. It seems to be generally accepted that the first couple of years of Conan’s show were pretty lame, but NBC continued to let him hone his craft. Eventually, the show and O’Brien himself b lossomed together into a stellar nightly hour of comedy and entertainment, and NBC kept him on board permanently. In 2004, it was a nnounced that Conan would take over the Tonight Show gig from Leno (whose primary experience comes from stand-up comedy, by the way ) in five years’ time. When that came, in June 2009, it was swift and efficient, casting the show onto Conan’s broad shoulders with a glitzy new Los Angeles studio. NBC seemed to be content with the move, as the ratings remained good for a few weeks. But, of course, the excitement died away after a bit, and the ratings settled into a spot significantly lower than where Leno had been. That’s where things got weird. Jay Leno and NBC began a new prime-time talk show in September called, rather creatively, The Jay Leno Show. It was revolutionary in the sense that it was a prime-time network talk show, but it was not revolutionary in the sense that it was just The Tonight Show with Jay Leno at an earlier time, and really not revolutionary in the sense that it sucked. In January of this year, rumors began swirling that NBC was considering making changes to its schedule regarding Leno and Conan; those rumors were confirmed soon after, when network executives announced plans to move the Jay Leno Show to 11:35 EST, make it half an hour long, and move Conan’s show to 12:05 AM. That plan fell through when Conan published a well-thought-out, well-written, firm letter stating his refusal to move the show back. It seemed as though that was that, and nothing would change. But, like a gorilla on a warpath, NBC continued their plans to move Leno to 11:35, making it once again The Tonight Show with Jay Leno , and removing Conan’s show. Personally, I find this incredibly rude to Conan. When his Late Night show was terrible, NBC gave him three years of lenience, and he clearly benefited from that. With the Tonight Show, it was less than seven months before the network pulled the show, and even then Conan had solid ratings and a stellar show nearly every night. A major factor in the removal of The Jay Leno Show was complaints from network affiliates that the show was a poor lead-in to their news broadcasts, and it should be assumed that a large portion of people watch a certain late-night show because it is on the same network as the news broadcast they watch. If Leno delivered poor ratings, fewer people watched the news after his show, and therefore, fewer people watched Conan after the news. Why would Conan be responsible for being at the end of a chain reaction started by Leno’s boring show? Beyond that, Jay Leno turns 60 in April. When announcing Conan’s takeover of the Tonight Show in 2004, Leno cited age as a key factor, saying that he couldn’t do the show for much longer. But the switch back, to maintain any possible stability, should remain with Leno in place for at least seven to ten more years. Will Leno be able to host the show at 70? Should he? Does he want to? Will he realize in three or five years that he just wants to chill with his vintage cars and retire normally? What will NBC do if that happens? The switch is done, but all these questions still linger for NBC, and the peacock faces harrowing days in the years ahead from the spontaneous, stupid decisions it made this January.