Jay Leno will be appearing on Oprah's show this Thursday, but I'm going to opt out of watching the new episode. Sure, I might be a sit-in of one, but I need to stand firm on this. I did my best to ignore all the Jay Leno vs. Conan O'Brien coverage. It was hard for me to whip up enthusiasm over the passive-aggressive battle between these two men, as much heavier human drama was going on the news (like Heidi Montag's plastic surgery and the whereabouts of Tiger Woods). Besides, I didn't care all that much who helmed The Tonight Show since I stopped watching soon after Johnny Carson stepped down in 1992, and NBC gave David Letterman the shaft. I became almost instantly turned off by Leno. I'm not a fan of his humor because I find it irritatingly mean. I don't like that he has so many bits that point out people on the street as stupid. Sure, there are some major ignoramuses (ignorami?) out there, but really, do these folks (who might be on their way home from a 48-hour shift at the soup kitchen, for all we know) need to be called out as dummies on national TV?
Wait! I digress. I really, really digress...
In my habit of rooting for an underdog, I leaned toward Conan to come out on top of the late night smackdown. And in my habit of choosing the wrong side to lean, I was disappointed that O'Brien's last show was Friday. I even watched, in solidarity with all the other faux-fans, who decided to flip on NBC like so many rubberneckers clogging traffic to stare at an accident scene on the side of the road.
When I heard rumors that O'Brien will kick off a new show on Fox, it hit me: Forget starting a late-nighter on another network, Conan. Do you really want to face off with Letterman AND Leno for the same audience who didn't watch you enough to secure your job in the first place? Don't waste your energy in attempts to claw your way up that slippery slope. Why not take a step back, shake yourself off, and call Oprah. If anyone can help you develop a loyal fan base before launching a new show, it's crafter-of-careers, Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah appreciates a person who can laugh at himself, who can dust himself off and stay in the game. You've handled yourself well in the past weeks of stress and kept your head held high. Winfrey admires shows of strength even in depths of adversity (although, truth be told, adversity is usually defined on her show as having your face torn off by a chimpanzee, not being given $32.5M in severance and a free pass to another network, but still). And she's all about second chances. Look at her two-day show with Whitney. Houston's album sold like hotcakes after her appearance on Oprah. Come on, Conan, think about it.
I know it might be a blow to the pride to go from captaining a ship to taking on the role of apprentice. But really, is the Titanic the boat you want to be steering? If she takes you under her wing, Oprah is the most effective Master to anyone's Grasshopper. Call Winfrey and ask her, nay, beg for her tutelage. If you can make it through Oprah-bootcamp (like Rachael Ray, like Dr. Phil, like Dr. Oz), you'll have any network wrapped around your pinky. But get moving, you only have a short amount of time before Oprah is off the air and you lose your chance. She'll teach you how to draw an audience and keep it. To build loyalty and love from a wider range of fans. Sure, you will probably be on daytime instead of the much sexier late night TV, but beggars can't be choosers.
After making several appearances on Oprah's show as an expert in...what are you an expert in, Conan...dignity? Sticking to your guns? Being loyal to your staff and your show? It's a good start, but you'll have to think of other talents you can pass on to Oprah's viewers. How are you with decluttering? Just think about it, because once you've made an impact on Oprah's fans, they'll probably follow you to your own show.
And start thinking of the product tie-in possibilities! Dr. Phil sold weight loss shakes and energy bars, Rachael Ray has cookware, and you can't throw a dart in a grocery store without hitting one of Bob Greene's "Best Life" endorsed products. I'm thinking you can start with skinny ties and hair gel and move on from there.
Try not to go all "Al Gore" after losing this round - letting yourself go and becoming a recluse for several months. You can pout, but not for too long. Because, just like Al, you too can rise like a phoenix and reinvent yourself. My advice: Start drafting your resume and cover letter to Oprah now. When she bets on a horse, it usually wins. And you never know, when Oprah exits her show in 2011, she leaves an opening that daytime audiences will clamor to be filled. What do you think: Can you be funny when hosting in Christian Louboutin stilettos?
Oh, and one last thing: NBC, would it kill you to put a fabulous woman on your late-night throne instead of going back to mine the boys' club over and over and over again? I'm just saying...maybe it's time to think outside the box. Just like Oprah showed the world that Phil Donahue didn't have to be the only one who wore the pants on daytime TV, I can think of a long list of XX'ers who are primed to take over late night.