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In Jay Leno’s Defense… Facts & History

By Martie Hevia | Blue Beach Song™

[Related Blue Beach Song Blog Post: In Jay Leno’s Defense… Again!]

Let’s face it, there are much more important issues in the world (like Haiti, the wars, the economy, healthcare, foreclosures…) than what is going on in “late night” at NBC, but there are some basic principles of fairness and honesty, which beg defending always. And so I have found myself distracted every few days by this dysfunctional family of late-night programming. I am perplexed by the organized groups of people on Facebook and on the sidewalks across America in support of Conan, who has morphed into some sort of little-man-done-wrong by the big bad corporate network, NBC, and the “backstabbing” boogey man, Jay Leno. Seriously?

Hmm… At first, watching this soap opera unfold as Conan initially and understandably was angry with NBC, and perhaps disappointed with himself, it seemed like a family squabble that would soon get worked out. However, I was surprised when night after night the squabbling got worse, the attacks got personal, and all of a sudden his anger turned toward an easy scapegoat, Jay Leno, the bad man who was trying to take the Tonight Show away from him.


Revisionist history may be a necessary and unforgiveable evil for those who are on the wrong side of history, but in this case, it is not ancient history and I am surprised that somehow the facts, only a few years old, have gotten lost or intentionally forgotten. I have been waiting for Jay Leno’s “people” or NBC to get out there and set the facts straight, but no one has. In my memory of events, back to when Leno got the Tonight Show over David Letterman and on to the more recent forced abdication of the Tonight Show to Conan, it is clear that the facts and history are on Jay Leno’s side.

Recently, I learned that Jay Leno does not have, and never has had, an agent or manager to negotiate his contracts, and it seems that he is also lacking a publicist to handle his public relations. Someone needs to defend this guy, he has become the villain in all of this, taking hits from the media, Conan, Letterman, and many in the public.

And yet, I see a nice man, from an older generation, who works very hard, regularly does free comedy shows for unemployed auto workers in Detroit, has been married to the same woman for 30 years, has gone along with everything his employer has asked of him, including walking away from his #1 rated Tonight Show, a dream job to any comic, asking only to be released from his contract, which NBC refused to do. Finally, under contract to NBC, he was asked/forced to do a prime time show Leno himself did not think would work, and, in the end, all he insisted on was to make sure that he could take his staff with him so that they would not lose their jobs.

Yes, he sounds positively evil, doesn’t he?

  • Has everyone forgotten that Jay Leno’s Tonight Show was #1 in the ratings for most of the seventeen years he hosted the show?
  • Has everyone forgotten that after 12 years of #1 ratings Jay Leno was asked to give up the Tonight Show because Conan O’Brien wanted the Tonight Show and had threatened to leave NBC if he did not get it?
  • Has everyone forgotten that Jay Leno agreed to walk away from his #1 rated Tonight Show so that NBC would not lose Conan, and all he asked was to be released from his contract and NBC refused?
  • Has everyone forgotten that Conan O’Brien, after seven months on the air, took the Tonight Show from #1 to #3 , sometimes #4?
  • Has everyone forgotten that Jay Leno’s new prime time show, The Jay Leno Show, actually increased its numbers from what he had on the #1-rated Tonight Show, even though he was up against all the other networks’ premier prime time shows?
  • Has everyone forgotten that Jay Leno did not ask to give up his Tonight Show to Conan,…
    did not ask to be put on prime time,…
    did not ask to be removed from prime time after only 4 months,…
    did not ask to be moved back to the 11:30 p.m. time slot,…
    did ask and was refused, for the second time, to be released from his contract,…
    did not ask to have his show cut from a one hour show to a 30 minute show,…
    did not ask to have Conan’s Tonight Show bumped to 12:05 a.m.,…
    did not ask Conan to leave the Tonight Show,…
    and did not ask to have the Tonight Show back?


Has everyone conveniently forgotten the facts and the recent history of this ridiculous melodrama? It is beyond me, how Jay Leno became the villain in all of this. Jay Leno is the man who went along with everything his employer asked of him, a traditional company man, who was asked to step aside to allow the younger, hipper, more valued employee, Conan, to take his job, even though Leno did his job exceptionally well. After all, how much better could he have done than #1?  Conan is the guy who threatened NBC with walking unless he got Jay Leno’s job. That is a fact. NBC is the idiot network who allowed themselves to be coerced, and then changed their minds, and then let Leno take the heat without defense, explanation, or admission of fault for weeks.

Conan took the flagship #1-rated Tonight Show and brought it to its knees. As a spoiled child might, he refused to take responsibility for the dramatic Tonight Show ratings drop; he refused to adjust his type of humor to appeal to the demographics who traditionally watch the Tonight Show; he refused to be moved back to a time slot where his younger/hipper viewers reside in late night, even though he was going to keep hosting the Tonight Show. He refused to adjust or to negotiate even though his staff, who had to relocate their lives from New York to California, now would be left unemployed.

Thirty minutes – he refused to move back thirty minutes, in contrast to everything Jay Leno gave up, thirty minutes seems reasonable. It did not mean that it would be forever. I suspect NBC was going to use Jay Leno’s ability to get a #1-rating in the 11:30 p.m. time slot to help Conan pick up his numbers, and then, no doubt, they would have unceremoniously discarded their older, less hip, more traditional, nice guy, who’ll-go-along-with-anything employee, Jay Leno. (Thank you, Jay, and don’t let the door hit you on the butt.)

My disappointment in Conan began with his hypocrisy in complaining the last few nights that Jay Leno was taking his job when he is the one who demanded to take Jay Leno’s job four years ago. I was disappointed and surprised that he was unwilling to move back 30 minutes to help his numbers pick up, to allow his staff to keep their jobs, and to continue to host the Tonight Show, a dream job.

In the midst of negotiating a $40 million buy-out to leave NBC, I was most disappointed watching this grown child whine about himself when the world was focused on Haiti and when we have unprecedented numbers of people in this country who are unemployed as they lose their homes and healthcare.

  • [Update:  Yesterday, it was announced that Conan wanted to renegotiate his buy-out before agreeing to leave NBC. Late this afternoon, Thursday, 1-21-10, NBC announced that the new amount for Conan is $45 million and $12 million for his staff.]

But the final straw, for me, was listening to him last night (Wednesday, 1-20-2010) brag about how he was getting even with NBC by wasting $1.5 million of their money for the “mouse” car he was standing next to on stage, a prop to be used in his rant, whose only purpose, he admitted, was to stick it to NBC.

How about using that $1.5 million dollars of NBC’s money at his disposal to help the victims in Haiti, or people struggling with foreclosures in this country, or facing bankruptcy because of healthcare costs for a sick loved-one, or to help re-locate his staff back to New York, if they wish, or add to their severance package? No, instead we continue to watch this child-man throw a temper-tantrum because he did not get his way, in every way, this time.

For those of you who have started and joined these Facebook groups and are out protesting on the streets the injustice done to Conan, assuming you were not organized by Conan’s PR people, there is no need to feel sorry for Conan. He negotiated a $45 million buy-out and in September 2010 he can start with a new show! I think he’ll be okay. If you need to protest something, you don’t need to look too far to find a plethora of issues, causes, and people who truly need help.

Is it that difficult for Conan to step outside of his own ego and his own selfishness to see that there are more important things going on in the world besides him walking away from a job he took from someone else? How about using his world stage to do some good before he goes? He has today and tomorrow… I hope he does.

  • [Update: Last night, January 22, 2010, Conan’s last night as the host of the Tonight Show, Conan redeemed himself with me. He used his world stage to promote the Hope for Haiti Now and other Haitian relief efforts. And after three nights of claiming to spend more and more of NBC’s money – 1.5million on Wednesday, over $4 million on Thursday, and $65 million on Friday night – on things whose only purpose was to waste NBC’s money as a form of revenge, he admitted that it was all FAKE. Thank you, Conan, and good luck on your future adventures. It was fun.]

An Aside: Did Leno Take the Tonight Show from Letterman? No.

For those of you who may be too young to remember, below are a few facts and history to clear up the misconception that Jay Leno stole the Tonight Show from David Letterman:

  • The Tonight Show (1954-Present) has had a few hosts, Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien. (Conan’s last day is Friday, January 22, 2010. Jay’s first day back is March 1st, 2010.)
  • In 1992, Johnny Carson retired. Over the years he had had a number of guest hosts for his days off, however, Jay Leno had become his permanent guest host in the last few years of Johnny’s reign. In the end, the demographics of the Tonight Show were more in tune with Jay Leno’s type of humor, his numbers were better, and Jay Leno was asked to succeed Johnny as the host of the Tonight Show.
  • The bitter animosity that you see in David Letterman today began back in 1992, when he felt that he was the rightful heir to the Tonight Show after hosting the Late Show for a number of years. In the past couple of weeks, David Letterman has been relentless in attacking Jay and defending Conan, not because there is any truth to the attacks, but perhaps more likely because it would help his ratings to do so, which had always trailed Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, and because he still seems to resent Jay for being the anointed one to follow Johnny as the successor to the Tonight Show.


Martie Hevia © 2010 | All Rights Reserved

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2010-January-21 12:00 PM

    Hi. I am a long time reader. I wanted to say that I like your blog and the layout.

    Peter Quinn

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