David Letterman, who knows what it is like to have a run-in with NBC executives, got off what were arguably the most insightful comments about the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien muddle Tuesday night. "Now, here's the deal," he remarked during his monologue, "anytime there's a big stink like this, and believe me there hasn't been a big stink like this in years, it's money. Don't kid yourself, it's all about money." Certainly in Conan O'Brien's mind, however, it was more than that. "I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it," he said in a statement. "My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction." NBC is taking the position that its contract with O'Brien obligates it only to feature him as host of The Tonight Show , regardless of the time it airs. But O'Brien argued Tuesday that " The Tonight Show at 12 05 simply isn't the The Tonight Show. " (He found an ally in David Letterman on that score. Letterman quipped that it should then be called The Tomorrow Show or The Day-After Show. ) Several TV pundits suggested that NBC's announced plans were merely a ploy to force O'Brien to leave the network so that they could bring back Leno to host The Tonight Show . Indeed, the gossip website TMZ, which first reported NBC's decision to move The Jay Leno Show to 11 35 p.m. cited unnamed sources as saying that "Leno will get his one-hour show back, and it will be called The Tonight Show. " Few industry observers thought that NBC executives would back down. Daily Variety commented "Given Leno's perf[ormance] at 11 35 vs. O'Brien's, the network apparently made the strategic decision to go with the former incumbent." But O'Brien could perhaps rightly claim that his ratings were affected by Leno's poor showing at 10 00 p.m. as the network affiliates' newscasts were a half-hour earlier -- perhaps more so. Clearly his ratings would not improve following Leno after midnight. As Jimmy Brogan, a stand-up comic who worked as a writer on The Tonight Show for nine years, told the Los Angeles Times , O'Brien would be forced to do a monologue 20 minutes after Leno's and would likely get B-list guests. "It's just an impossible position he's in." For his part, O'Brien said in his statement on Tuesday "[I] have no idea what happens next."

13/01/2010