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Four Reasons Why Conan is the Winner in the Second Late Night War

by Joel Keller, posted Feb 3rd 2010 6:02PM
Conan O'BrienEveryone involved in the Second Late Night War got both criticism and praise. Yes, even Jay Leno got praise in some circles (just not from me). But now we've had some time to let the dust settle and take a closer look, there's a clear winner in this battle: Conan O'Brien.

Why? Well, some news from our friends at TMZ is a good place to start:

1. Conan is paying his crew himself. TMZ reported yesterday that some of the old 'Tonight Show' crew -- namely, the stage hands -- are being paid severance directly by Conan because they weren't among the staff being paid under Conan's separation agreement with NBC. According to the report, he's paying 50 staffers six weeks' worth of severance. Now, that's not going to help those staffers pay the bills until Conan comes back in September, but it's better than getting what NBC was offering, which was zero. The word mensch comes to mind when I read this story.

2. He walked away with a freakin' fortune.
That would have been number one on the list before the TMZ report on the severance pay came out. On Monday I did my semi-monthly spot with Steve Jaxon on KRSO; he asked me what I think Conan is doing right now. All I could say was, "I dunno... he's at home counting his money?"

Let's be honest: It's really, really hard to feel sorry for Conan after he was given over $30 million to leave NBC. Even if he uses some of that money to pay staff members and his lawyers and agents, he's still clearing at least $15 million after taxes. Everyone wishes they'd get fired for $15 million, right?

3. He's got good will and momentum on his side. During Oprah's online post-Leno-interview Q&A with her audience, she made a good point: If everyone who supported Conan actually watched The Tonight Show when he was host, he'd still be there. But after his very public departure, those people who might have watched their DVRed episodes of 'Jersey Shore' at 11:30 PM instead of Conan will be curious to see him come back in September. It's Conan's job to hold that audience and keep 'em coming back. Which leads to the next item...

4. He can now do whatever the hell he wants on his next show. Conan is no longer hemmed in by any pre-conceived notions of what being the host of 'The Tonight Show' entails. So if he wants to just go nuts and do a show that was as out there as 'Late Night' was (especially the early days), he's free to do it. He can bring back masturbating forest creatures or horny sea mammals, or even create all new surreal stuff (which he may need to do due to NBC's intellectual property claims). Heck, if he wanted to, he could go on cable and do a sketch show, or a viral video show, or whatever he wants.

Conan's last two weeks on 'Tonight' showed how strong he could be when he's unfettered and has a loose, I-don't-give-a-crap attitude. It's sort of how he reacted on 'Late Night' during the writers' strike, making people laugh by spinning his ring or climbing around the studio. Hopefully, he'll carry that devil-may-care attitude to his new show.

Who do you think the winner of the Second Late Night War is? Let me know in the comments.

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Nick H.

Whomever did what to whom at NBC, this much is clear: Jay Leno is the unfunniest man on television and a self-centered d-bag. Conan's two-minute Tonight Show best-of montage was better than Jay's entire previous run on the show. Conan will be back on the air somewhere in the fall and in the end, it won't matter that it isn't on the Tonight Show - Jay ruined that franchise about 18 years ago.

February 20 2010 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Boyer

It's not that Leno is better than Conan. The network got off cheap with 45 mil to Conan. Think what the network would have to pay Leno if they kept Conan.

February 07 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Susan

Kimmel is the winner. People will find him when they're looking for fresh and current humor--not Jay or Dave. Jimmy will appeal to the same "younger, targeted" audiences that NBC said they were aiming for in moving Conan to TTS.

Jay's humor no longer appeals to even the "older" crowd. How do I know? I'm one of 'em--and a big Conan fan. I'll switch to Kimmel!

February 07 2010 at 8:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vicvod

I like Coco!

February 05 2010 at 10:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
acostyu2

The real winner is also the biggest loser - Jeff Zucker, mastermind of the move - LIEW-EW-EW-ZER!!!

February 05 2010 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rlwebbjr

Jay is the clear winner. Conan got the lowest ratings of any Tonight Show Host. He is more suited for 12:35. NBC should have never moved Jay when he was at the top of his game. This whole mess is NBC's fault, not Jay Leno's. Now I can go back to watching the Tonight Show again.

February 04 2010 at 9:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rlwebbjr's comment
Mike S

This whole business about Conan's ratings is a red herring. Let's talk only about the demo - Conan lost a lot of older viewers, but NBC doesn't care about them.
Before the move, NBC declared that Conan needed to go from a 0.8 at 12:30 to a 1.0 at 11:30 in order to be pulling his weight. He did that. So according to NBC's original metrics, Conan was a success.
Conan also lost viewers in the demo compared to Leno's Tonight, yes. Let's compare apples to apples.
Leno at 10PM was down 30% in the demo compared to the programs he replaced.
Now, let's see how much Conan fell in the demo compared to Leno's Tonight - well, how about that! 30%, which was about the amount the local news also lost.
So Conan lost the same proportion of viewers in the demo that Leno lost at 10. He did no worse or better than the change in his lead-in.

The real reason NBC let Conan walk is that had Leno walked, they would've owed him $150 mil. That's the whole thing.

February 04 2010 at 11:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
VinnieP

Leno is the clear winner in the late night wars. Even though he loses his 10pm show, he gets to return to the Tonight show. I'm sure he will increase the ratings enough to satisfy NBC. Although I prefer Conan to Leno, having watched him all those years on Late Night, he is the real loser here. He, in effect, lost two shows, namely Late Night and the Tonight show. It is not a given that he will get a new show. I certainly hope he does. I will definitely be watching.

February 04 2010 at 9:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Im Bored

Conan, please don't go cable, I will not have cable, not even for you. But I'll watch TBN or even FOX for you if I must.
May the sperm whale masturbate over nbc...

February 04 2010 at 5:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Melanie51

"According to the report, he's paying 50 staffers six weeks' worth of severance. Now, that's not going to help those staffers pay the bills until Conan comes back in September, but it's better than getting what NBC was offering, which was zero." I guess that would depend on how much he's paying them - probably more than I make in a year.

February 04 2010 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anita

As much as I love Conan and Dave has done well for himself, Leno is the winner of both late night wars. Both times, he has wrestled the Tonight Show from two intelligent hosts who hosted TS follow-up shows.

February 04 2010 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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