After seemingly endless public fighting and controversy, Conan O'Brien has departed NBC's "The Tonight Show" with Friday night's broadcast marking his final time hosting the legendary late-night program.
First hosted by comedian Steve Allen in 1954, "The Tonight Show" has seen many lead the talk show. From Allen and Jack Paar to the venerable Johnny Carson and now O'Brien, the program is full of comic history. Jay Leno reigned as king of "The Tonight Show" from 1992-2009 after nabbing, some would argue "stealing," the show from David Letterman upon Carson's retirement.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the show, with ratings dropping and that ill-fated format switch in 1957 to a news-type program. However, there has been a sense of dignity about hosting the legendary broadcast, until now. Who wants a washed up comedian, Leno, to return to late-night with his tail between his legs, besides Jeff Zucker?
With O'Brien departing "The Tonight Show," and Leno set to return as host March 1, NBC is certain to face an uphill climb as it tries wooing back viewers and re-building the dignity of its storied program. Any TV viewer that ditched 'The Tonight Show' once O'Brien took over shouldn't be that hard to get back, pending they haven't died of old age. No, NBC shouldn't be concerned about that demographic. It should, however, be nervous about the 18-to-49 demographic -- a group O'Brien plays well to.
O'Brien has been the leader in late night with the 18-to-49 year-old viewers this season, according to BusinessWeek.com. Leno, on the other hand, has been struggling to garner any viewers for his prime-time show. And once O'Brien is able to return to the airwaves in September, Fox could prove a strong competitor to NBC should they snatch up O'Brien for its own late-night program. The network is the most-watched in prime time when it comes to youngsters.
Zucker recently told Charlie Rose he made a "mistake" regarding the whole late-night debacle. When the coveted 18-to-49 year olds follow O'Brien this Fall, perhaps Triumph the Insult Comic Dog can interview the NBC executive and get him to admit something worse. After all, it appears the NBC higher-ups decided to lock up Triumph and most all of O'Brien's comic creations so that they can't be used on a competing network.
Perhaps Zucker's master plan is to have Triumph the Insult Comic Dog co-host "The Tonight Show" with Leno. Now that might be the only positive thing to come out of this late-night madness -- a puppet upstaging Leno each and every night. I'd definitely tune in.