The past few weeks, late night television has never been funnier. Or, more vindictive. Conan O'Brien taking shots at Jay Leno and NBC. David Letterman taking shots at NBC and Jay Leno. Jay Leno taking shots at NBC, Conan O'Brien and David Letterman. Jimmy Kimmel taking shots at Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, NBC, and Jay Leno (and even doing an entire show as Jay Leno!). I'm sure I am missing someone who took shots at all of the above, but you get the idea.
But now, it appears to finally be over. O'Brien and NBC getting a divorce with O'Brien getting a "divorce" settlement said to be worth $45 million, though some of that reportedly will go toward paying his soon to be displaced Tonight Show staff.
Pretty soon, the universe will be put back together again, appearing much as it did before the hands of NBC executives screwed it up by yanking Leno from late night and depositing him in prime time, while moving O'Brien from New York to LA to take over one of the most lucrative franchises in television history.
And, boy, will it all be so boooooooooooring!
I mean, no offense to Leno, but there was a reason why , after 17 years, NBC opted to move O'Brien into the Tonight Show chair. They wanted change. Now all they apparently want is, more of the same!
For those who might argue that all this is just silly show business--and that, in the end, it doesn't really amount to much, listen to what one media expert told the Christian Science Monitor: "People care about what comedians are saying. Which is why, even though this is a juicy soap opera, it is also an important struggle over who will be on the air," says Robert Thompson, of the Bleier Center for the Study of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. He continues: " Comedians have taken on an important role in highlighting the topics the nation focuses on, as well as the tone of the cultural discourse."
While O'Brien seems likely to show up again in about 8 months' time as a late night talk show host on FOX (that seems to be the running bet, according to various media reports)--it is doubtful that the often venomous, though very funny, on-air exchange of pointed barbs among the different late-night hosts will be resurrected. It was situational humor and the situation will be very different come the fall.
If O'Brien is smart... and he is... he should take a page from Jack Paar, who walked off the Tonight Show over a dispute with NBC about censorship, only to eventually return weeks later with the now classic:
"As I was saying before I was interrupted... I believe the last thing I said was 'There must be a better way to make a living than this.' Well, I've looked... and, there isn't."
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think- The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995, and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX 1070 Newsradio.