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Five reasons why Jay Leno should be Conan O'Brien's final Tonight Show guest

by Danny Gallagher, posted Jan 20th 2010 9:00AM

The Tonight Show
has a handsome list of throwback guests, Will Ferrell and Tom Hanks who were the first and second guests when Conan O'Brien took over, on what is presumed to be his last show this Friday. Seriously, they still haven't resolved this thing. Say what you will about the dunderheads-in-chief at NBC, but at least they are consistent at failing.

And while it is nice to remind the audience and the network of the heavy hitters that Conan will have in his corner when he bids his former employer farewell, I'd like to see him take it one step further. Conan O'Brien should have Jay Leno (yes THAT Jay Leno, is there another?) as his final guest.

Sure, it sounds like a bigger pipe dream than mounting a Van Halen reunion tour with the undead corpse of Jimi Hendrix as the opening act, but here's five reasons why it would not only make sense for another small chapter of The Tonight Show dynasty, but for the television dynasty as a whole.

1. It would prove that Jay Leno is not the bad guy
Maybe I'm just a naive little bastard, but I honestly believe it's not Jay's fault that Conan will no longer have The Tonight Show. Sure the network backed Jay and only backed Coco into a corner forcing him to uphold the show's 60-plus-year honor by bowing out early. Business is business. You can always whack a guy on the back of the head in the Octogon and still toss back a few pints at the bar afterwards until the bleeding subsides. And the best way Jay can prove it is by wishing Conan the best as Conan hands back the reins of a show that Jay handed to him just seven months ago. Certainly, no one would "blame" either of them.

2. The awkward squirming would turn the comedy up to 11
If you're a fan of tense situational comedy like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, then a five minute sit-down between Jay and Conan would be like an orgasmic mutation of those shows with an after-hint of the Jim Cramer/Jon Stewart melee. So when you put two funny guys with something to beef about in a room together, they obey the law of comedy gravity: the awkwardness that drives them apart will eventually pull them together and make for great comedy. And if the two happen to overcome a basic law of entertainment physics, then...

3. There is a chance a fight might break out
Jay and Conan might be two nice guys who only strive to bring laughter and happiness into the world, but even a nice guy can go full-on "Scrappy Doo" when you prod him with a pitchfork more than 67 times in a row. Late night talk shows make their mark with unexpected, sometimes tense moments. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to get hurt, but the room would be on the sharpest pins and needles and a simple wink, nod or look could turn a single moment into a keg of nitrate-infused gun powder just waiting for a spark that could make a Maury Povich cat fight look like a game of armless "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots." The best part is any chance of physical blows would be replaced with that time-honored slice of true comic ammunition: pies.

4. Technically, the old host is supposed to hand off The Tonight Show to the new host
Handing off a talk show to the new guy is a time honored late night tradition and if protocol serves correct, Conan is supposed to hand off the show to the new host, which is technically Jay. Sure it doesn't make much sense, but tradition isn't supposed to make sense! Besides, just watching Conan on the right side of the screen and Jay on the left would just make for an awesome "bizarro world" moment that would make my next viewing of Eraserhead feel like an episode of Teletubbies on 12 ounces of Absynthe. And don't ask me how I know the exact hallucinogenic conversions of Absynthe to David Lynch films. Just take my word for it.

5. Some big time, ultimate cage match, double tag team trash talking against Jeff Zucker and NBC

Gag orders be damned. Just imagine the kind of ridiculing and ribbing that could be accomplish when Jay "Crimson Chin" Leno and Conan "The Barb Barbarian" O'Brien join forces to fight the real enemy. Both Jay and Conan have been taking more than their fair share of shots at the big wigs who have turned their entire late night lineup into media mulch and deservedly so. Jeff Zucker and company are the Evil League of Evil of all of television who seek to express their disdain for all of humanity through their thoughts, words and deeds, minus the tight fitting spandex uniforms... that we know of.

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What everyone fails to mention is that Leno's show didn't fail any more than it was expected!!!! They told him going in that it would tank until the spring. Take a look at this.


He wanted out, but they were scared of competing with him. But either they aren't worried about Conan, or they have some sympathy for him.

January 27 2010 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like Jay Leno better than Conan. I even started watching Conan in his old time slot to try and get use to his humor. He stinks as far as I was concerned. I don't think Jay Leno had a chance to make a success of his his new show. It reminded me of a low budget Tonight Show. All of the winers, give it up especially Booming Echoes who wrote five pages on the subject. What is done is done and we'll all be better off talking about what's going on in the Government than arguing over the Tonight Show.

January 26 2010 at 12:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It will be so nice not to see that spoiled brat Conan on TV, for awhile at least. Jay stepped aside, not by choice, but to give the cry baby a shot at the Tonight Show so he wouldn't leave NBC as he threatened. He couldn't get the ratings, no surprise there, so now they want him out. But Conan was too full of himself to go back on after Leno where he belonged in the first place, again a spoiled brat attitude. I'd dump his sorry butt too, but not to the tune of 40 million bucks. Jay never threatened the network --- while Conan was a demanding jerk. Amazing how different the same circumstances can look to different people.

January 25 2010 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to agree with many of the comments here about Jay Leno. He may not be totally to blame in this fiasco but he definately had a large part in it. He didn't have to agree to leave The Tonight Show (TTS) when he signed his contract in 2003 or so- or least kept it quiet so he could wrangle more time. He could have walked when he left TTS, not taken another job at NBC that undercut his successor. He could have walked when NBC cancelled his show. He could have said no to the offer to go back to 11:35 or take back TTS.
Some people point out he was still under contract with NBC but why did they rush to sign a new contract with him before they even settled things with Conan? It has been stated that Jay had clauses about start times for TTS. He probably had other stipulations that covered cancellation or changes to the format. It's likely he had similar stipulations for The Jay Leno Show. He was probably free to do anything he wanted if the network cancelled him. By making another contract with Jay Leno, NBC really forced themselves to have to settle with Conan when they could have accused him of quitting and breaching the contract. They could have made him leave with nothing. Why would they rush it unless Jay had something to threaten them with?
Someone also mentioned that Jay's crew would be out of a job if he left. Doesn't the same hold true for Conan's crew? Do you think if Jay had been the one getting the severance package that he would have made sure his crew got money like Conan did?
I, for one, will never watch TTS again with Jay as host.
I did, however, watch Conan's last show. It was amazing. He went out with grace. Even with all the ugliness that has gone on, he THANKED NBC for giving him his start and giving him the great opportunity to realize a dream. He then helped Will Ferrell with a beautiful rendition of Free Byrd. And as it ended, I swear I saw a tear run down his cheek.

January 24 2010 at 11:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, he's getting paid a huge amount of money to leave, but it's the prinicple of the thing that he is leaving something he loves to do, when he didn't have much of a chance to do it. I don't see why NBC sees Leno as such a big asset. Do they really think he's the face of the network? He hosted the Tonight Show for 17 years, isn't that enough service? He is no Johnny Carson. To me, Leno is predictable, stale, and not funny. I have always liked Conan over Leno. He had his own comedy, and it worked. I think Conan lost ratings because Leno's viewers went to Letterman to watch a veteran. But Conan is also a veteran, he hosted Late Night for 16 years. It's crazy that Leno is canceled, and Conan has to leave. It's not the hosts' fault, it's Jeff Zucker's. This all will probably be forgotten in a few weeks. We all have our own opinions on who is better, but I started watching late night shows at age 9, and Conan always triumphed Leno. His final show was a class act. I hope Conan will come back in any way, shape, or form.

January 24 2010 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Diane T

I wondered why Jay, who I enjoy so much more than Conan, didn't step aside as well, then it became clear. If it was just him, I'm sure he would have said "see ya," be it would have affected his staff of 179 people. If he walks, they are without jobs. Takes a big man to take the abuse he is taking. He didn't ask for any of this, and I'll bet the majority of people putting Jay Leno down doesn't even watch his show, or knows one thing about him. The media tries to make everyone believe there was this big war on air between Conan and Jay. I watched. And I sure didn't see anything. Yeah, jokes and jabs, but nothing worse than they do at other people. The venom was all towards NBC. Jay belongs on the Tonight Show, NBC should NEVER have taken it away from him, and they know it.

January 23 2010 at 9:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I admit I never have been much of a fan of Conan and hated went it was announced he was going to host the Tonight Show. He did improve his offensive behavior after taking over the Tonight show, but not enough for me to tune in. I don't care for Letterman, but if he didn't have that awful Paul Shaffer I might could tolerate watching him. The best thing would be if Craig Ferguson was moved to an earlier time slot then I might get more sleep. I don't think Jay was the bad guy. I do think Conan continued to show what a jerk he is by blasting Jay when it was the heads of programming that fired him.

January 23 2010 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've grown to dislike Jay Leno since he took over 10pm- a highly unnecessary move that he shouldn't have accepted, and have found him even more unlikable since he's basically involved in taking over 11:30pm and pushing Conan out. No matter how it's sugar coated, Jay comes off tarnished in the end. No one is forcing the guy to do these things. And don't get me wrong, I blame NBC too. But Jay IS accepting the that Conan be pushed.

The one thing I do know for sure, if Conan invited him to be on his show, I'd immediately tune out. I will not give Jay Leno my viewership. He is, in my opinion, a tarnished brand.

...but I heard that Conan's last guest, will be the same as his first.... Will Ferrell

January 20 2010 at 11:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First off, you are sorta being naive.. If business is business then they wouldnt have told Leno he had 2 years to grow his show and they also wouldn't have yanked both shows around when both men had contracts to do the shows they were doing.. The contract is every thing and frankly they're showing how bad off the company is right now by squirming around late night ratings when their entire network is falling apart around them. Canceling a show because its doing bad is one thing but in late night you can't go by just 7 months of shows. It takes longer because the show doesnt have a story, it's changing every night. If a sitcom or drama have story problems they try to shift around episodes in the season to make up for it, or in rare cases reshoot whole episodes, they can't do that with these shows... And like I'll say soon about the original Leno show, it took him some damn good luck and more then a year to get it where it stayed till it was over.. but moving them around these shows while they're still actively in nightly production (meaning they arent taped weeks in advance like sitcoms or dramas) shows NO confidence in either Conan OR Leno at all or the fact that they want even the most interested fans to know when these shows are really going to be on (like if they suddenly movied 30 rock to another night, people would be confused and wouldnt be able to watch it).. That, right there, is NBC's fault..

Any way, a few things need to be straight here about all this, so here's 5 things from me:

1) Leno isn't the bad guy but he isn't exactly smelling like roses either, but he's still looking for sympathy either way:

He wanted to walk away when the show was handed off, but here he stayed doing another show. Why? because I'm probably sure after he stated in '06 on his Tonight Show he was ok with Conan and handing it off he really wasn't, which is why he acted like a baby in the months leading up to the day he had to. They gave him another show, and he had years to cope with something he stated he was fine with, he didn't need to act like that. Now, even as his second show is tanking he can't just walk away and let things be, and instead of saying "yes my show was a failure, the time slot was bad" he's sitting there with NBC turning it on Conan and saying that Conan's ratings were bad so they needed Leno's show to save it, when in fact it was Leno's show they were trying to salvage in some format so they didn't lose all the money they put into it and his new studio.

Jay's huge, and not so hidden, ego is in the way. He has openly said that he took it upon himself when his new show started to "Help Conan's ratings" which WASN'T the lead in to The Tonight Show, nightly news was..If Conan accepted it would have been the same thing: Jay needs to save the day again. If it was said time and time again how bad Jay's ratings were, and how people couldn't stomach, or stay awake during, his how how they HELL was he supposed to help Conan in the first place, let alone with a half hour "warm up" show before The Tonight Show? He said in November, in an article I found floating around, that he was expecting the Tonight Show to come back to him.. So doesn't his ratings "help" sound like sabotage?

There's no vindication, even though Leno seems to think he's being vindicated. He's spouting off about this being "business". I don't know, I guess the meaning of business has changed. I suppose now it means means you can whine when you get asked to move so the company your with can try desperately to keep someone who they think can destroy them only to be given a brand new show when you shouldn't be around at all,just to make it tank. Then get lucky when the guy they wanted to keep takes a high road in preserving history and having a spine, allowing you to go ahead and scavenge the scraps.. Leno had no spine in the first place and yes he should have been gone completely. He could have told them no, he was their #1 guy they obviously wouldn't have wanted to lose him either, but he didn't.. and guess what, even with the whining, they didn't. And now, here in 2010, he could STILL say no and just walk away (like he said he would back in '06) but again that ego and that greed is stepping in. He feels as though he's better because NBC is freaking out and thinks he could save it when in reality they just have no one who can drop every thing they're doing in order to take it over, at least Not without months of work/months without the Tonight Show (Leno as a premade team and already has about an hours worth of material ready every night) or the fact that He's getting lucky that Conan doesn't want to be the name attached to the tarnishing of the Tonight Shows legacy, which honestly Jay's done twice now (three times if you count how he acted when his time was up on The Tonight Show).. If Cona

January 20 2010 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People are not very smart. Jay doesn't run NBC. He has been fired by them twice. Jay ruled late night for YEARS! Comanche came in and destroyed it! People need to get over it and deal with the facts. If you take over someone's job, not that they gave it to you, they were forced putti make room for you, and you tanked at this new job & couldn't touch the person you replaced, don't you think the boss may just realize they made a HUGE mistake and fix it??

January 20 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bill's comment

The facts as they stand, which you have not mentioned:

- Jay had a strong primetime lead-in when he had the Tonight Show. Conan had Jay's weak show that no one watched as a lead-in. Conan and the NBC affiliates both suffered for it. That is why this mess is happening.

- As mentioned elsewhere, Jay could walk away but he won't. He could've let Conan keep the Tonight Show as contracted, but he's going to let NBC take it away from Conan and hand it back to him. How many months did this take? Seven? Eight?

- The real bad guys here are the NBC Execs who must be fearing for their jobs more than anyone. This programming disaster has them trying to fix this quickly (at Conan's expense), not realizing that they're killing the patient in the process.

- With Comcast now owning NBC/Universal, there must've been some butt-kicking going on to force NBC Execs to make such (irrational) decisions. How is Comcast taking this horrible PR as the new owners? Probably not well, but this didn't happen on their watch.

They will be studying this for years in what NOT to do.

But here's a few suggestions:

- Let Jay be the hero and say "I want Conan to stay. He deserves the Tonight Show and I wouldn't want it any other way. Goodbye."

- Let Conan prove that he deserves the Tonight Show (or not) by giving him a year. If he crashes, oh well. That's business. If he succeeds, then Comcast stuck with their talent that they believed in.

- Restore some of the PrimeTime programming (e.g. dramas, hits, etc) to the empty slots that Jay left behind. If you have to give up an entire night's programing just to spread it out through the week, do it. NBC also has a number of shows "on the shelf" just in case this didn't work out. Schedule them immediately.

- Also immediately, fire every NBC Executive who had a hand in this disaster (bye Jeff Zucker). Also, fire every NBC Executive who mouthed off to the media instead of smoothly fixing the problem behind the scenes (bye Dick Ebersol).

January 20 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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