Something this week brought to mind David Letterman’s 1986 visit to GE headquarters, delivering a fruit basket to his new corporate masters, who had just bought NBC. Apparently the New York Times was thinking about it too, since they scouted a YouTube clip for us.

We don’t know whether Michael Moore was inspired by Letterman’s bit for his 1989 GM documentary, or whether there was just a late-Eighties zeitgeist at work. What we do know is that we had completely forgotten The Official General Electric Corporate Handshake, which remains A Gesture For Our Times.

And now that the week’s events have all but played out, let’s play a hunch: Letterman turns 63 this year. He’s been hosting a late-night program for almost thirty years. He’s rich. He has nothing left to prove. He has a sense of broadcasting history.

He’s also in negotiations right now to extend his contract “deep into 2012.”

No, we’re not saying CBS would fire Dave for Conan. Our hunch is that Dave might take the opportunity to retire with grace. Screw Fox — we’d rather see Conan walking onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater.

It’s Over! NBC to Pay Conan $30M [TheWrap]

Taking on America’s ‘nice guy’ [LAT]


Actually, Fox might be a perfect fit for Conan. Fox is a network that I’ll never quite figure out. They do provide me with beisbol and Family Guy, and FX has outpunched its weight. And then there’s Fox News.

I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last three months — starting with the day that SFL showed up here to be exact. I could refer to this as 1.5 Glenn Beck Heads lost.

(Speaking of Stinque-ups — I will be in Phoenix for spring training this, um, spring. Jamie: you around March 16-21?)

@chicago bureau: I haven’t really watched Letterman in years except to catch U2’s week long stand last spring.

Down 5 or 6 lbs since December 1 myself. We’re all working out and ditching the Cheeze-Its. Son of RML has been riding the bus to the gym after school to lift weights. Mrs RML and I were both dead yesterday after work but still went for some revitalizing weights and cardio. I got her three sessions with a personal trainer for her birthday. Son of RML and I are going snowboarding/skiing today. Conditions will be warm, clear, with groomed “packed powder”.

Almost had to go to the 602 on Tuesday for a hit and run mass meeting with los federales but we submitted written comments instead on what was up. First thing I thought was “call Jamie.”

GOOD NEWS: baked’s friend’s son is safe. He was in the DR when the earthquake struck. However, many other loved ones still missing.

@chicago bureau: 30 pounds? That a tenth of a mother-in-law. Good job.

One more reason to be glad I don’t have a TV anymore: Dave retiring.

The last year or two I had TV, when I would occasionally tune in to Conan, I found him cringe-inducing. Talk about “phoning it in.” His monologue consisted of him reading “jokes” in a monotone, with an angry, put-upon look on his face.

Yes, Conan, we know — your hair stands up. BFD.

Gah. Really, peeps, I don’t understand this obsession with a hack like him. Fox seems like the perfect home for him. Craig Ferguson has more funny in his little finger than Conan has in his whole body.

@chicago bureau: Fox remains the obvious play, but it’s not a slam-dunk — affiliates make a ton of money off sitcom reruns, for which they’ve signed expensive contracts. (Fact I keep forgetting: Roger Ailes also runs the network-owned Fox stations.) And yes, presumably Conan wouldn’t have a Dick Ebersol telling him to play to the midwest and sand off the edges.

But Letterman’s near the end of his run. He has his own established franchise, and I’m not sure Craig Ferguson works at 11:30, if that’s even in the cards. (Ferguson’s an acquired taste, but he definitely works at 12:30.) Dave’s crankiness also works for Conan, in that he’s created an 11:30 audience that would be more amenable to Conan’s humor.

The bet remains Fox. But Conan succeeding Dave would be a coup.

@chicago bureau: I should be around then. Remind me when we get closer to the date and we’ll set something up.

@nojo: I’ve never really been a late night show person but this whole situation has me utterly fascinated. The Solomonesque suggestion by NBC that ended up playing right into Conan’s hands when he refused to split the baby.
The other comedians coming out of the woodwork to shit on Leno.
Letterman letting his bitterness rise up again after all these years to great comedic effect.
Kimmel turning Leno’s own audience against him by getting them to laugh at the jokes made at Leno’s expense (jokes Leno himself could only cringe at).
The seemingly Internet-wide support for Coco.
I find it interesting that a Harvard educated multi-millionaire who’s really kinda hit or miss with his humor has suddenly been embraced (in the middle of a recession) by so many people because of the American sense of fair play.
The soap operaish backstory that determines who takes whose side (e.g. Shearer is Team Coco and shits on Ebersol via Twitter b/c of his days on the Ebersol SNL. Tonight’s SNL is expected to have something pro-Coco because Lorne produced Late Night and had Conan as a writer on SNL + he hates Ebersol, etc.)
I’m really dying to know what will happen with the Tonight Show after this dies down. Can Leno come back from this?

@chicago bureau: Congrats, CB! We Chicago Stinquers will have to meet up for drinks again so you can so off your svelte new self. We can have light beer or cocktails with club soda if you want!

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I’ve never really been a late night show person

Quite honestly, I’ve been watching the Daily Show News Hour this past decade (okay, half-decade for the full hour), although Silent Creative Partner is a big Conan fan. And Conan is funny and inventive (sorry, Karen), although his strength isn’t the monologue (correct, Karen).

I watched the first week of the Conan Tonight Show, and noticed a problem that apparently more devoted fans share: It’s flat. Everyone knew the Masturbating Bear would be left behind at 12:30 (even Dave tamed somewhat for the earlier hour), but it was more than just softening up for the fabled Midwest audience: It’s a gorgeous set, but Conan doesn’t hold the space very well. He doesn’t have that kind of presence — certainly not the way Ferguson fills the room.

But that would presumably be adjusted over time, the way Leno eventually switched to a set more suitable to his nightclub strengths. (I should say “strengths” in scarequotes, but I’ll be kind for the purpose of comparison.)

Which leads to…

Shearer is Team Coco and shits on Ebersol via Twitter b/c of his days on the Ebersol SNL

Everything I know about Dick Ebersol effectively comes from Harry Shearer, who’s been Dick-bashing for years — as well as Lorne-bashing.

But that’s another example of why this resonates far beyond the principals and the fans of the principals. It’s what’s happening now, it’s what happened during the last switch, the broader cast of characters takes it back to the late 70s/early 80s (Conan & Zucker at Harvard, Ebersol & Lorne, Jay & Dave on the comedy-club circuit), and the Tonight Show itself is one of the original NBC institutions.

Tonight’s SNL is expected to have something pro-Coco because Lorne produced Late Night

But apparently (i.e., unsourced gossip) Lorne wasn’t happy that he didn’t get an exec-producer credit for the Conan Tonight Show. And Lorne is also a “team player” — he fired Norm Macdonald on orders from (I think) Ebersol, who was buddies with OJ and didn’t like Norm’s OJ-bashing on Weekend Update. I wouldn’t take SNL’s response for granted.

Which brings us back to my hunch in the post: After Norm was shitcanned, he showed up on Letterman to grouse about it. And still more rumors have Letterman’s people making approaches to Conan’s people about a guest appearance after the fuck-you ink is dry. That would be fun to watch in itself, and thinking about it inspired thoughts about Dave handing over the reins and really sticking it to NBC.

Leno himself will come back fine, and he’ll probably be beating Letterman again soon enough. But Leno only has a few more years on him, and NBC botched the succession. (Jimmy Fallon? Oh dear god.) Dave could make a play right now that hands the next generation to CBS.

Shorter nojo: I really really really am a geek about this subject.

Meanwhile, one of the side stories I’ve been curious about: Page Six is reporting (unsourced, of course, but so is everything else) that Conan’s staff is pissed at him, which may explain last night’s Pimp/Ho callback.

Conan’s manager (sourced!) denies, and when the subject has come up elsewhere this week, the general take was that negotiations involved not just Conan’s fate, but his staff’s.

Here’s the twist: Page Six is the Post, the Post is Rupert, and Rupert is Fox. If you’re a controlling media baron making a play for Conan’s post-NBC services, that’s not how you do it.

But that’s also the catch in my Dave Retires hunch: Dave is famously supportive of his staff (at least the non-pestorked members), brought them with him to CBS, and may well (complete hunch) be keeping his show going to keep them employed. Any Dave-Conan marriage would have to deal with the kids.

That in itself would likely tip it to Fox, all else being equal. But Fox affiliates aren’t clamoring for a late-night show, which opens room for unexpected twists to come.

flippin eck: Svelte? Not really. I’ve moved from horrorshow to below-average-middle-aged-man level.

Odd thing: not a lick of exercise. We started this weight-loss deal in late fall, so biking was not in the plan. But I think I just might hop on the bike tomorrow to see if there is a way to do the whole bike-to-work thing during the winter without being totes miserable.

@chicago bureau: Have you heard about Miracle Noodles? they are colorie and carbohydrate free yet filling and have been around in Japan for a long time. They sell them from their website.

@flippin eck: We have bunnies living under the house.

@nojo: Harry Shearer? Now you’ve said it all.

@nojo: I read somewhere that Ohlmyer (sp?) was the person behind the Norm MacDonald firing, not Ebersol. Isn’t an interesting quirk of fate, though, that Pat Weaver’s daughter just so happens to be the one hosting SNL this of all weeks?

Man, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

@Mistress Cynica: That’s wonderful news, and a big relief, but I’m sure the waiting continues.

@chicago bureau: Congratulations! That is an impressive accomplishment – you must have so much more energy now that you’re eating better. And once you start some exercise, it’ll really come off!

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I think you’re right about Don Ohlmeyer. (Too lazy to fact-check, too lazy to spellcheck.)

And yes, I’m fascinated by Pat’s kid hosting SNL this particular week. Although I would be floored if they somehow mention that Sigourney’s dad invented both Today and Tonight. (And, in general, programs without single sponsors.) Pat Weaver has his place in broadcasting history, but it’s still somewhat esoteric.

@Benedick: Figured that would get your attention.


Sources tell us NBC wants a liquidated damages clause if Conan says anything disparaging about the network once he leaves. Essentially that means there is a clause in the contract that says Conan will automatically pay a predetermined amount of money if he says bad things about NBC.

Of course, a clever writer like Conan could run circles around that clause, the existence of which is more disparaging than anything he might say.

@nojo: I’d love to see NBC take him to court when he says something they consider “disparaging” that he says isn’t, and he refuses to pay and they are suing him for breach of contract and for specific performance. A trial where a judge evaluates whether the remarks are disparaging of NBC would take the absurdity to 11.

@nojo: @SanFranLefty: Yeah, I don’t see how they’d enforce that clause without losing money hand over fist and giving a far larger moral victory to Conan. But the mere existence – if true – of this discussion must give Letterman a major boner. This one’s for you, Dave!

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Just spent an hour — I’m that geeky — listening to Bill Simmons and somebody chat it up on the subject. Nobody’s mentioning a Letterman retirement as an off-the-wall option, so I’m going to be very fat-headed if it comes to pass, or even if the gossip picks up in that direction.

General notes:

1. We’re understandably focused in the moment, but this fuckup was generally called the moment NBC announced Leno at 10 — before Conan even started the new gig. It was called not only in terms of screwing local news, but also in terms of undermining the Tonight Show by having another talk show precede it. Conan moved up an hour, but he was still batting second.

2. The problem of Conan blanding down for 11:30 seems to be much more broadly recognized than I realized — I thought I was an outlier with that opinion, but I keep seeing it turn up. Then again, I also thought he would figure it out over time. Besides, this isn’t really the Midwest Problem, but NBC exec views (see Ebersol) of the Midwest Problem, and a consequence of Leno spending seventeen years blanding it down. There’s actually an audience for Jaywalking, but we knew that.

(By the way, Conan’s “younger” audience averages 46. Kids have better things to do at night.)

3. And thus, Fox. Or Dave. Dave’s already carved out a cranky audience for a major network, which is why I think he could hand over the keys with a smoother transition than Leno-to-Conan. And with Fox, of course, Conan would have an opportunity to build from scratch, without preconception about how a show like that is supposed to run.

In other words: Let Conan Be Conan. The clips I’ve seen this week have been really sharp, what others are saying has been missing from his Tonight Show until now.

Oh, and I have to give a shout-out to Kimmel, who is definitely not one of my favorites. He ran a series of faux NBC 10 p.m. promos last night. All of them starring Fred Willard.

@nojo: I saw those Kimmel clips. It’s amazing the quality of work that has come out of this mess … from everyone but Leno.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: My condolences on the Cards’ loss. You see how Fate is kicking the Ravens in the ass at every opportunity?

@redmanlaw: Thanks. I’m not watching the Ravens. I’ve had all the football I can take for one day.

NYT (unnamed exec source) puts the buyout at “close to $40 million”.

Conan better make damn sure all the staff daughters get ponies, or all that goodwill is toast.

@nojo: The move back to Westchester County and Brooklyn after 1 year at Harvard-Westlake won’t be THAT traumatizing, for fuck’s sake. Especially if staff daughters’ daddies still have jobs.

@SanFranLefty: Well, there’s the catch. I don’t know all the details, but a shop like the Tonight Show carries 200 folks, not all of whom are union writers. I’ve seen vague descriptions like “generous severance” floated, but it’ll need to be extraordinary severance, lest the Post find better sources than NBC shills to slip them anonymous complaints for Page Six.

Hey, multimillionaires only get so much sympathy slack.

Generational change on Facebook…

Team Leno: 1,735 members

Team Conan: 152,246 members

I’m with Coco: 250,209 fans

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Or, of course, SNL could go with a colossally lame cold-open on the subject. That would be more their style.

Four minutes later…

Sigourney mentions Dad! Yayyyyy!!!

Yes, I have been peeking at Gawker this week, since they’ve been uploading clips from all the late-night shows.

Including late-night shows from 2004:

There’s only one person who could have done this into his 60s, and that was Johnny Carson…

I called my buddy Jerry Seinfeld, and I said “Jerry, what do you think?” And Jerry quit his show when it was the most popular. And I’m proud to say this show has been Number One, we will keep it Number One, and then in ’09, I’ll say, “Conan, take it over. It’s yours.”

You can do these things until they carry you out on a stretcher, or you can get out when you’re still doing good…

When I took this show over there was a lot of animosity between me and Dave and who’s going to get it, and quite frankly a lot of good friendships were permanently damaged and I don’t want to see anybody have to go through that again.

You know, this show is like a dynasty — you hold it, and then you hand it off to the next person. And I don’t want to see all the fighting, and all the who’s better, and nasty things back and forth in the press. So right now, here it is: Conan, it’s yours. See you in five years, buddy.

That was Leno, the day Conan’s Tonight Show contract was announced. Game, set, match.

Conan? Reeeeeeeaaaalllllyy?

Well, OK. If you say so.

BTW, about the writers: fuck them. They want security let them go be teachers. It’s show business, you’re supposed to be out of work.

@Benedick: Would it help if I explained it in terms of Doctor Who casting?

@nojo: Not in the slightest way. Though I’m told the sequel will be Fags in Space.

Add a Comment
Please log in to post a comment