Jay Leno continued his amazing gall last night in attempting to make the coup that NBC and he have engineered to reclaim The Tonight Show from Conan O’Brien seem like an act of heroism.

Confirming reports that he’ll return to hosting The Tonight Show as of Mar. 1, he said, “I have chosen to stay on the Titanic.” But that “joke” implies that someone else chose not to stay at NBC, when everyone except Leno seems to know that Conan was pushed off the Titanic. I mean, NBC.

Depending on how you watched it, Leno either wussed out or showed the serene swagger of a victorious survivor. Unlike the night before, when he was busy hauling David Letterman’s wife into a joke.

First, last night’s Best Late-Night Taped Bit goes to Jimmy Kimmel, who did a wonderful Ken Burns’ Civil War parody of the subject, complete with a mock-historian analyzing how General Jeff Zucker had “authorized an attack on his own forces” — cut to old tintype showing Jay slaying Conan:

A close second was David Letterman, who ran a “Jay Leno File,” documenting Leno’s history of transgressions, including the possible murder of James Stewart. Dave remains delightfully ruthless and gloriously tasteless.

As for Conan himself, his penultimate show was uneven. Having Robin Williams on to run around using the f-word and act as though he was peeing on NBC, or Ben Stiller popping out to make some unfunny jokes about the ecological unsoundness of building “a $50 million studio you only use for seven months,” or inviting Pee-wee Herman in to explain the NBC settlement with various toys was okay, but beyond the notion that Conan’s lawyer is Optimus Prime, it wasn’t all that hilarious.

It was an odd night in late-night. Aside from Stiller’s stillborn funniness, there was also Harrison Ford on Letterman, going off a bit on people who sought his autograph as “autograph merchants,” accusing a boy who’d accosted him outside the Late Show studio as actually being “a 45 year-old man in a boy suit.” Weird…

It took Conan himself to provide his own most clever gag, bringing out what he claimed was Derby-winning horse Mine The Bird in a “mink Snuggie” for a bit O’Brien said was “not so much funny as crazy expensive”:

Finally, Letterman addressed some criticism he’s received (not here) for what he called “the inequity in my attacks,” saying many folks feel he’s done more Leno jokes than Conan jokes. “The thing is, I have known Jay forever,” said Letterman. “And it’s just more fun to tell jokes about Jay.”

Everything’s revving up for tonight’s final Conan Tonight Show. Will you be watching? What did you think of last night’s talk-show coverage by the talk-show hosts?

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For more on late-night:

NBC execs on Jay Leno’s return to ‘The Tonight Show’

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