TV hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien have mined their channel NBC’s late-night mess for plenty of jokes about their employer. Now they seem to be turning on each other.
There was a certain bite to some monologue jokes by each man on Wednesday, a day after O’Brien said he wasn’t willing to move the Tonight show back a half-hour to make way for Leno. Leno took note of his colleague’s complaint that his NBC bosses gave him only seven months to establish himself at the Tonight show.
“Seven months!” Leno said. “How did he get that deal? We only got four.”
O’Brien returned the volley, saying hosting the Tonight show has been the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. “And I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life,” he said. “Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too.”
Sensing something, David Letterman joked on CBS’ Late Show, “Isn’t it lousy cold outside today? You know, they say, from the weather bureau, they say it’s caused by an Arctic chill between Jay and Conan.”
Meanwhile, a study illustrated just how damaging Leno’s show has been to NBC. The Tonight Show audience has thinned since O’Brien took over in June, allowing rival Letterman on CBS to take the lead in the battle for late-night viewers. And with local TV stations complaining that it hurt the 11 o’clock newscasts that followed, NBC plans to scrap its cost-cutting experiment that put The Jay Leno Show on TV at 10 pm.
But the disaster might do some good. “Controversy is a great PR and could reinvigorate Leno’s show. More viewers may turn in out of curiosity,” said Gabelli & Co analyst Christopher Marangi. That would provide some comfort to NBC, which faces the prospect of spending $10 to $20 million to reach a settlement with O’Brien.