Meltdown: NBC/Conan/Leno feud now a full-blown public spectacle

The news is slow, the egos are huge, the embarrassment to MSNBC’s parent company is great, and this is a press release for the ages. I’d call it a palate cleanser, but it’s just too … zesty.

To steal an easy Leno-esque joke I saw on Twitter: NBC’s handling of personnel? A solid B+.

It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

Bottom line: Either he stays at 11:30 or he walks. Pretending for a moment that any of us cares how this shakes out, Ace is right that Conan’s really a late late night guy. Yeah, NBC could simply cut Leno loose, but he beat Letterman for years at 11:30, which, to paraphrase America’s second-most beloved ex-governor, is an effing valuable thing. Throwing senior citizens a bone by putting him back in that slot for a half hour and then Conan at midnight isn’t an insane compromise, even if it is a raw deal for NBC’s red-headed stepchild.

This, of course, is now the second time alleged nice guy Jay Leno has ended up in a nasty feud with another late-night host over the Tonight Show. To show you how surreal this situation has become, here’s 90 seconds from Conan’s monologue last night; note the “chin” crack. Exit question: What’s more annoying, O’Brien’s argument that the Tonight Show is some sort of quasi-religious institution that we dare not dislodge from the sanctified 11:30 hour or the realization that Jay Leno has this much sway over American entertainment?