MEDIA
03/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Leno/Conan And World War II: WSJ's Joe Queenan Makes Puzzling Comparison

In normal circumstances, I'd be happy to recommend author Joe Queenan to a friend, having enjoyed both "Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon" and "Confessions Of A Cineplex Heckler". Each of the aforementioned books contains reliably enjoyable cultural criticism and satire.

But in today's Wall Street Journal, Queenan really whiffs badly in an attempt to draw a historical comparison between the Leno-Conan-NBC wars and... uhm... well, Hitler. As they say: "Oy."

Jay Leno, much like Adolf Hitler, is a master of making secret demands for foreign territory and then acting like the wronged party. First he pretended that he wanted to annex only the first half-hour of Mr. O'Brien's "Tonight Show." Here he was mimicking Hitler, who insisted that he merely wanted to annex the German-speaking Sudetenland, not all of Czechoslovakia.

Then, adopting the craven British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a role model, NBC stabbed Mr. O'Brien in the back by agreeing to let Mr. Leno reoccupy the first segment of his old "Tonight Show" slot. NBC's defense was that Mr. O'Brien had dismal ratings, and the show was a bit of a mess. But the same can be said about Czechoslovakia, a hodgepodge cobbled together after the First World War that never really got its act together.

Returning from Munich, Chamberlain joyously waved a piece of paper in the air and proclaimed that the accord with Hitler guaranteed peace in our time. Returning to Burbank, NBC officials expected the same result from its deal with Messrs. Leno and O'Brien.

I think that it goes without saying that I don't understand this -- not one word. Didn't NBC originally appease Leno by giving him five hours of prime-time television, upon which to crap? Wasn't that the hallmark of Leno expansionism? Did Neville Chamberlain take back the Sudetenland after local news affiliates complained?

And this is the most sensible part of this bizarre comparison. It only runs off into the weeds, from here.

Ultimately, I think the fault here lies with Queenan's editors, who really should have said what so many of the people who have edited my own writing have said to me, which is: "Hey, you know, I think if you stop and really think this through, you'll see that it makes no sense at all." But I don't think that the editors know what they're doing either! Consider that in Queenan's first paragraph, he sets up the comparison like so:

Cultural historians are desperately seeking a precedent to the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien fiasco. They are looking in the wrong places. True, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase and Joan Rivers all got axed from late-night talk shows after shockingly brief stints at the helm, but none of them got $32.5 million to take a hike.

The editors gave the piece the following subhed:

"Conan was the Czechoslovakia of late-night TV."

But Czechoslovakia wasn't given a lot of Nazi money and the permission to go off and do their own thing in return for staying out of Hitler's way. That was Switzerland!

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