Tonawanda News

Night & Day

January 21, 2010

COLUMN: Casualties of the late night wars

“Are you getting tired of hearing about it? Me neither.” That’s what David Letterman said about the “Tonight Show” drama at NBC, and I couldn’t agree more. Late night television has become appointment television. Such feuding and bickering can’t last forever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Late shows are primarily designed to be comfortable. You know what you’re going to get. The host comes out, goes through some type of monologue, takes his seat, does a comedy bit or two, brings out the guests, and ends with a musician or stand-up comedian. This is late night, most of the time.

But not right now. All the hosts are sniping — mostly at Leno — and Leno is trying to snipe back. It’s delicious. I can’t get enough of it.

Most people seem to feel the same way. Ratings for “The Tonight Show” are up. Conan O’Brien’s name is now one of the Internet’s top search items.

This and other bits of evidence point to the court of public opinion being in Conan’s favor. The bigwigs at NBC might not realize it — what a surprise — but throwing Leno back on “The Tonight Show” won’t be a cure-all.

Will the ratings go up from Conan’s “Tonight Show?” Of course they will. First of all, Leno will have a 10 p.m. drama du jour as his lead-in before the news, which is much better than what Conan got, which was “The Jay Leno Show.” And yes, some people who are more comfortable with Leno’s brand of stale humor will flock back to “The Tonight Show.”

But that viewpoint is alarmingly short-term. What if Leno’s audience doesn’t come back in full? What if those viewers have latched on to another show by now? What if Conan ends up on Fox, in a competing timeslot? Can Jay’s core audience stay awake until 11:35 p.m. for much longer?

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