Tonawanda News

Night & Day

January 21, 2010

COLUMN: Casualties of the late night wars


You wonder if NBC has considered any of this. Conan’s “Tonight Show” isn’t great — not as good as his “Late Night” show, but it’s still better than Leno’s “Tonight Show.” Or perhaps I should say, “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” isn’t great ... yet.

Conan’s “Late Night” show got better with time. Yes, time. Although it may be hard to convince network executives of this, patience is an option. (Although NBC is the network that took “Freaks & Geeks” off the air after one season, 10 years ago. Fans of great TV are still bitter about that.)

As for those ratings, one-time NBC ratings dynamo Jerry Seinfeld came out in defense of Leno recently, saying, “I don’t think anyone’s preventing people from watching Conan.”

That’s easy for Jerry to say. He had time. It took “Seinfeld” four seasons to crack the Nielsen top 25, and five seasons to really hit its stride. In another world, maybe today’s world, “Seinfeld” could have been killed by NBC in a year or two.

The patience argument could also be used to defend Leno’s 10 p.m. show. That is, if it wasn’t a nightly talk show going up against powerhouse dramas in primetime. It’s less Leno’s fault than it is NBC’s fault, really.

And so, both Leno, who once said he would gladly pass on the show to O’Brien, and NBC, which didn’t think this through, and didn’t give Conan enough time, come off as hypocrites.

NBC President Jeff Zucker told the New York Times, “I think part of why there’s been such a visceral reaction to this is we’ve talked about change and taking risks, and that’s something I’ve always been associated with. And not being afraid to take chances.”

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