Late Night Fight

You’re either a Jay Leno person or a Conan O’Brien person. Sure, there are Letterman people out there, but the question remains: Jay or Conan?

nbc talk show hosts conan o'brien jay leno david letterman

People say there are certain rivalries where you have to choose a side. You’re either a Beatles person or an Elvis person. You’re a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan. You either love Blur or you love Oasis. You can’t like both.

Add a new one into the mix: You’re either a Jay Leno person or a Conan O’Brien person. Sure, there are Letterman people out there, and I know of at least one dedicated Colin Ferguson fan, but even if they’re not your favorite late-night personalities you still have to choose between the current Tonight Show host or the previous one.

Why? Right now there’s a huge dust-up going on about NBC’s late-night lineup. Previously, O’Brien had his eye on the prestigious Tonight Show slot and — though I don’t know how he did it — he persuaded the brass at NBC to give it to him, ousting then-host Jay Leno. Since Leno did a good job of pulling in ratings, NBC was loathe to let him go, so they gave him his own hour-long, prime-time talk show, The Jay Leno Show, every day at 10 p.m., giving up on trying to schedule scripted series in that time slot.

It was a risky move for NBC, and, by all accounts, a failure. The Jay Leno Show turned out to be a horrible lead-in for the local news, which is reported to have angered NBC affiliates. Now, NBC has to scramble quickly to fix everything, because the last thing you want as a network television station is angry affiliates. Here, Conan addresses some of the ideas and rumors that have been thrown around about what NBC plans to do:

As of right now, this is the plan that appears most likely (though a Conan Xbox game would be rad): Move The Jay Leno Show back to 11:35, but truncate it to a half hour, and keep O’Brien as the host of The Tonight Show, but push him back to 12:05. From what I’ve read, Leno would be happy to have his old time-slot back, but O’Brien feels slighted to have to give up the 11:35 slot and is weighing that versus taking his show to another network like Fox. Here’s how I see this deal affecting all the players in the late-night game:

Jay Leno: I think he emerges from this situation a winner. Even though it was his show’s bad ratings that reportedly angered the affiliates, moving him back to 11:35 looks like a promotion. Saving his show makes it look like NBC would clearly rather keep him around more than O’Brien.

Conan O’Brien: Not only would pushing Conan back a half-hour look like a demotion, making him once again the second-fiddle to Leno, but having both Leno and O’Brien in Los Angeles means the two would still be competing for guests (if Leno’s half-hour format still has guests). So far, O’Brien has gotten the short-end of the booking stick (anyone notice how his guests are always stars from other NBC shows?), and I think it’s holding him back. And if he walks, he’d be competing against both Letterman and Leno.

conan jay

Letterman: If this deal goes through, I think it would be bad news for our local horse in the race. Letterman’s stronger first half-hour would be up against Leno’s half hour, a ratings race he’s lost in the past, and his weaker second half-hour would be up against Conan’s stronger first half-hour. Still, I’m sure the Northern Westchester resident isn’t too worried — he’s always had loyal fans, and he always will.

Jimmy Fallon: His Late Night comes on after Conan O’Brien, and with no other NBC late-night talk-show filming in New York, he gets his pick of guests doing the NYC circuit. I think it’s worked out well for him so far.

Carson Daly: If the deal goes through, his show, which is currently on after Late Night, will be cut. I was shocked to find he still had a show at all.

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert: I think they might look the best in all of this, since all of the coverage of the NBC mess has the press looking around for those doing the best jobs in the late-night game, and their names keep coming up. Some have gone so far as to say that their shows make the whole late-night chat format obsolete.

So, what do you think? Is NBC making a shrewd move or a blunder? Who’s your favorite late-night host: the middle-of-the-road Leno, the offbeat Conan, or our local Letterman? Anyone willing to stick up for Fallon, Ferguson, or even Carson Daly? Let me know in the comments.

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Marisa LaScala

Marisa LaScala
Elmsford, NY

Associate Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come back and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at, where she is a staff writer.



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