Last night, it was as though the late-night hosts were talking not just about, but to and even as each other. In the wake of Conan O’Brien’s announcement that he would “not participate” in the “destruction” of the Tonight Show legacy, Jimmy Kimmel said on his show, “Fortunately, I will!” He said this in the voice of Jay Leno, having made himself up into a punching-bag version of Jay, and continued tossing jabs:
Kimmel, whose impersonation was finely detailed and sustained, said, “You know what ABC stands for? ‘Always Bump Conan.'”
Jimmy Kimmel’s guest Chevy Chase — who had a Fox late-night talk show in 1993 that lasted only six weeks (remember that, Conan!) — came out wearing a Conan wig.
Conan received a long ovation when he emerged last night, and began by saying that at NBC, “our new motto is, no longer just screwing up prime time.” He showed tape of the “worldwide reaction” to his statement of refusal, subtitling comments from foreign dictators including Fidel Castro: “Conan had to put his foot down!”
Howie Mandel appeared to help Conan with his career choices in Deal or No Deal style, with six models holding briefcases that proved to contain various career options including two tickets to see Jay perform in Las Vegas.
Most devastatingly, Conan invited one of his writers, Deon Cole, to give his take on the subject. The writer said that “NBC is a big pimp” and that Conan and the other hosts were “hos”:
Make no mistake: Conan is not taking this lying down. (As it were.) If he continues to hammer away at NBC, how long do you think they’ll keep him on? Or are the NBC suits happy to take such punches if it means high ratings?
Over at The Late Show, David Letterman said NBC had called him to say, “We still don’t want you.” He had a small stack of Conan/Leno jokes, and even when it looked as thought he was veering away from the subject, joshing about Simon Cowell’s American Idol departure, Dave steered it back: “Simon Cowell is leaving, but we checked: Jay’s fingerprints are nowhere on this one.”
Letterman then continued his ruthlessly funny analysis about Conan and “Jay ‘Big Jaw’ Leno” from his desk:
Dave broke it down, taking viewers through the financial problems NBC now has due to Conan’s canny public statement. “It’s all about money,” he said, adding that NBC “really wants Conan to do his show from his basement.”
“I’m sure the lawyers will figure it all out,” said Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show with deft sarcasm.
The common theme of all the hosts last night was: Leno screwed things up (to use Conan’s phrase) and NBC is a dumb, self-destructive network.
As for Leno himself? He started off with political jokes about Harry Reid and the book Game Change, making but a single monologue joke about how “NBC didn’t handle [the late-night situation] well.”
Leno seemed shamed into virtual silence.
But for the rest of the guys, the lines have been drawn, the verdict has come down: They’re all on Team Conan.
Oh, and they all agree that Carson Daly is not merely in limbo: he’s a nobody. Letterman claimed he’s “never even seen a picture of Carson Daly.”
Did you watch any of them last night?
How do you think Conan has been handling his situation?
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For more on the late-night controversy: