O'brien Leaves On A High Note

Total audience figures for Conan O'Brien's farewell appearance as host of The Tonight Show are not expected to be released until later today (Monday) but preliminary overnight ratings indicated that O'Brien not only beat his competitors decisively among the key group of adults 18-49, but also every program in primetime on Friday night as well. That may not represent as much of an achievement as it would appear, given the fact that the first two hours of primetime on Friday were devoted to coverage of the Haiti telethon by all the major networks and nearly 30 cable channels. Nevertheless, it indicated that O'Brien is capable of drawing a big crowd that is likely to remain loyal to him if, as expected, he turns up on the Fox network next fall. That could seriously deplete Jay Leno's audience and thereby further undermine NBC's late-night strategy. "O'Brien's final week may have greatly advanced his cause in landing a new home, such as Fox," Daily Variety commented today (Monday). Many TV critics praised the talk-show host for delivering a "classy" valedictory. His voice brimming with emotion, he said, "Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show, and for seven months I got to. I did it my way with people I love, and I do not regret a second. I've had more good fortune than anyone I know." Meanwhile, owners of NBC affiliates are shedding no tears over O'Brien's departure. "We are just happy to have Jay back where he belongs," Dan Modisett, the manager of NBC's Jackson, MS affiliate, told the Wall Street Journal. Michael Fiorile, CEO of Dispatch Broadcast Group, which owns the NBC's Indianapolis affiliate, where the 11 00 p.m. newscast saw its ratings drop to second place in the market after Leno's 10 00 p.m. debut, told the newspaper, "Our sense is once the lead-in is improved, we'll be back at No. 1." However, Leno will be faced with overcoming a growing perception that he was instrumental in sabotaging O'Brien's show, first by agreeing to host another similar show an hour earlier, then by agreeing to shorten it and move it to 11 30 p.m. In an op-ed column appearing in today's Wall Street Journal , writer Joe Queenan compares Leno with the pre-WWII Adolf Hitler ("a master of making secret demands for foreign territory and then acting like the wronged party.") He says O'Brien is like Czechoslovakia. "So if you're anchoring the 11 p.m. news program that precedes "The Tonight Show," don't get too comfortable. The blitzkrieg is right around the corner. And you're Poland."



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