Forget Democrats and Republicans. This year’s biggest rivalry seems to be between Team Leno and Team Conan.
For those who don’t know, late-night fans have been up in arms over NBC’s decision to push back “The Tonight Show” hosted by Conan O’Brien to make room for late-night return from Jay Leno, who announced a few years back that he would be retiring and handing over the “Tonight Show” reins to O’Brien.
The problem? He changed his mind, and ratings for O’Brien’s show and Leno’s now-cancelled 10pm program haven’t been as high as hoped—which is why NBC has proposed essentially reverting to the pre-“retirement” late-night schedule.
Not surprisingly, O’Brien and his fans are outraged, with the redheaded host suggesting he’ll leave rather than have to relinquish his job back to Leno. Fellow late-night host Jimmy Kimmel even scolded Leno on his show last week, saying it was unfair of him to muscle O’Brien out.
Media critics have pointed out that the controversy has affected Leno’s longtime “Mr. Nice Guy” image. Writing for the LA Times, Scott Collins and Matea Gold say that Leno has “found himself cast as a villain and become a national punchline.”
“Leno’s image has been getting warped in public…from that of a fun-loving comedian to a guy who ends up looking like he has a more dark, selfish side,” communications professor Jeffrey McCall of DePauw University told the paper. “That can’t be good for someone whose gig is to make people laugh.”
What will happen as this late-night drama unfolds remains to be seen, but there’s a lesson to be learned here. Make sure the image you’re presenting is consistent. NBC may be more to blame for this conflict than Leno, but perhaps if he had spent more time considering whether or not he wanted to retire he wouldn’t be suffering from such negative PR right now.
PS Have a wonderful MLK day!