Friday, January 22, 2010

Where's Johnny?

NBC Universal (left); Associated Press - This time it's personal: from left, the hosts Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and David Letterman are the subjects of their own talk.

People are riveted by the NBC debacle for reasons that have nothing to do with talent and everything to do with expectations. The Leno-O’Brien fracas is both shocking — an explosion of incivility that burns through late-night bonhomie — and also reassuring. It turns out that the cliché that comics are angry, bitter people deep down is true. NBC on Thursday confirmed it had reached a deal with Mr. O’Brien to walk away. And Mr. O’Brien, who is getting an estimated $32.5 million, is still using his last moments on the “Tonight” stage attacking the network. And that includes spending extravagantly on frills for the show, like the rights to use the Rolling Stones song “Satisfaction.”

Even the imperturbably jovial Jay Leno, who is getting what he wanted, namely “The Tonight Show” back, dropped his Everyman mask this week to aim a cross-network shot at David Letterman, who has mocked him and NBC unmercifully. “You know the best way to get Letterman to ignore you?” Mr. Leno said in his monologue on Wednesday. “Marry him.”

If one could stand it. Funny, though.

Mr. Leno and his peers will undoubtedly try to go back to normal once Mr. O’Brien is gone and his “Team CoCo” followers calm down, but the veneer of late-night niceness may be gone for good. Mr. Letterman is an exception, of course. His comic style is laced with his peeves and personal grievances; when he lost “The Tonight Show” job to Mr. Leno in 1992 and moved to CBS the next year, he made a running joke of that setback and network executives, but after a while he mostly left Mr. Leno alone.

I long felt Letterman should've gotten the "Tonight Show". But, now, he is an anachronism.

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