Big changes for ‘Tonight Show’

John Sturgeon

NBC is a network with a lot of problems.

For years now, its primetime lineups have lagged behind those of ABC, CBS and FOX in the ratings battles.

The one area where NBC has excelled is with its late-night talk shows, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

Both shows are the most watched shows in their timeslots as Leno and O’Brien have continually defeated David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Craig Ferguson.

One would think that NBC would not want to mess with a winning formula.

However, Leno will broadcast his final “Tonight Show” at the end of this coming May, due to a contract he signed in 2004 to retire in 2009 so that O’Brien could take over as host.

NBC’s decision to have Leno sign this contract in 2004 was ridiculous. With how dominant his show has been, he should have been given the opportunity to retire when he was ready.

Back in 2004, he felt that five years would be enough and he could leave with no regrets while peacefully passing on the show to O’Brien.

Leno wanted to avoid the controversy that surrounded his replacement of Johnny Carson back in 1992.

Letterman felt he was going to get the show due to the success of his version of “Late Night” for 11 years on NBC.

The network stunned him by choosing Carson’s longtime guest host Leno, and Letterman fled to CBS.

There is no doubt NBC wanted to avoid having O’Brien leave for another network, but it should have just paid him more to stay while promising him Leno’s spot when he decided to step down.

Over these past five years, Leno has had second thoughts and wants to continue hosting somewhere.

NBC cannot back out of the contract, or it will owe O’Brien millions of dollars. Now NBC is banking on O’Brien to be able to maintain the ratings “The Tonight Show” received under Leno, while placing the unproven Jimmy Fallon in O’Brien’s old spot.

Meanwhile, Leno is the hottest free agent in entertainment right now.

Rumors of offers for his services include a syndicated show or a talk show on ABC to go against O’Brien and Letterman.

The catch is that if Leno leaves NBC, he cannot start somewhere else until 2010.

It will be interesting to see what NBC offers him, since Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff, NBC Entertainment co-chairmen, want him to stay at the network in some capacity.

If he goes to ABC, it will be interesting to see if his audience follows.

Even with all this Leno craziness going on, the NBC heads are confident O’Brien will draw a similar-sized audience.

The problem is that Leno and O’Brien possess vastly different personalities.

O’Brien is a master of self-deprecating humor.

A lot of the fun on his show comes from his facial expressions, his interactions with the audience and band, and his off-the-wall mannerisms.

He makes a complete fool of himself with no shame.

There is nothing funnier or more unpredictable than watching O’Brien interact with a guest.

Whether he is drinking with a wine expert, embarrassing himself in the kitchen with Martha Stewart, playing tennis with Serena Williams or standing on top of his desk to play with a camel, you never know what he will do.

He is a rare breed of comedian who does not have to tell jokes all the time to keep you laughing. All of these factors are reasons why O’Brien attracts primarily teenagers and young-adult viewers.

Leno, on the other hand, is a more traditional comedian who appeals to older and younger people alike.

With his wealth of stand-up experience, he continually delivers the best monologues on late-night TV.

Unlike O’Brien, Leno does not act like a goofball to get laughs but instead delivers his own brand of comedy to get the same effect.

Segments like “Headlines” and “Jaywalking” are “Tonight Show” institutions that best display Leno’s style.

With “Headlines,” Leno pokes fun at real newspaper mistakes, and on “Jaywalking,” he makes people look like fools with their answers to questions about current events.

Being an hour earlier, “The Tonight Show” is less raunchy than “Late Night” – another reason for the difference in demographics watching the show.

Leno conducts great interviews that delve into what people want to know and allow him to make jokes at a guest’s expense from time to time.

Will O’Brien’s style be able to keep the Tonight Show on top? Where will Leno end up? Is Fallon a disaster waiting to happen? The future of late-night TV has never been less certain, and it will be interesting to see where all the pieces fall in the coming year.


Showtime’s hit show is a perfect dramedy that will touch your heart and make you laugh out loud on a continuous basis.

Golden Globe-winner David Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a novelist who has recently split with his longtime girlfriend after infidelities committed after their move to California. Due to the stress of not being able to see his daughter or live with the love of his life, Moody turns to alcohol and sex to ease the pain.

Early in the show, he sleeps with a girl named Mia, who turns out to be the 16-year-old daughter of his ex-wife’s new fiancé, Bill.

Duchovny is awesome as the cocky and confident lady’s man with a heart, and it is fun to watch his journey to regain the love of his ex and rebuild his family.

The chemistry between Moody and his ex Karen (Natascha McElhone) is electric, while the innovative writing and unpredictability will keep viewers hooked.

The DVD of Season 1 is in stores now.