The War For Late Night

When Leno Went Early And Television Went Crazy

By Bill Carter

Carter reminds us that show business is a business. His previous book on late night talked about how Jay Leno maneuvered David Letterman out of the job that Johnny Carson held for decades. This book shows how Jay Leno did the same thing to Conan O’Brian.

The fracturing of mass audience that was starting to happen when Johnny Carson retired in the 1990s had grown worse by 2005. TV networks scrambled to get the young demographics that advertisers wanted. Leno was losing that audience and NBC invited Conan to take over the Tonight Show at 11:30PM. Leno decided to hang on with a show at 10:00 PM. It was a terrible show and it dragged down Conan. Logic dictates that Leno had to go. Instead they drove Conan to TBS and his demographic went with him.

Beyond this story, Carter also gives background stories about the executives and other late night hosts. Craig Ferguson creates laughs out of thin air. Jimmy Kimmel brings a street sensibility that Leno could only promise. Jimmy Fallon is likable because he really is a nice guy.

David Letterman has the oddest story, which is fitting. He made a joke about Sarah Palin’s daughter. Palin deliberately misinterpreted the joke and attacked his reputation and tried to force him out of his job. A few weeks after this, someone tried to blackmail Letterman over an affair. Letterman did the stand up thing and did not budge. Instead he turned it into comedy, because even Sarah had to admit, Dave’s funny, huh?

Carter also puts an end to anyone ever using the movie Sophie’s Choice as a metaphor for pushing somebody out of job. Executives kept using that story without realizing it is a tragedy about a woman who lies about everything, including her monstrous father.

In the end, it doesn’t matter when the Tonight Show is on or who is hosting it. People are not watching television anymore. They watching video online. It is not when or where you are funny. It just matters that you are funny.

Copyright 2012 DJ Cline All rights reserved