Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Heeeere's...Controversy!

So Conan O'Brien is concerned about being party to the demise of "The Tonight Show." Admirable, but much ado about nothing.

Look how hard NBC tried to kill "Saturday Night Live" and THAT'S still standing.

Besides, if what Jack Paar did failed to hurt "Tonight," then nothing will.

O'Brien is the guy who's now the odd man out, with Jay Leno apparently returning to 11:35 p.m., shoving "Tonight"---the show Conan waited years to host---back to 12:05 a.m.

O'Brien is having none of it. He says that "Tonight" at 12:05 just isn't "Tonight." He's right, technically; it's "Tomorrow" if it starts past midnight. And NBC killed that off over 20 years ago (remember Tom Snyder?).

I give Conan props, though, for taking a stand. He was promised "Tonight" and everything, he presumed, that came with it---not the least of which was its starting time, right after the local news, as it's been for decades. A 30-minute wait, with Leno essentially acting as O'Brien's warm-up act, wasn't exactly what Conan had in mind. Don't blame him.

But I think it's a little dramatic to say that "Tonight" at 12:05 is doomed for failure. Maybe doomed for poorer ratings, but not its total destruction.

"SNL" debuted in 1975---yes, that would be over 34 years ago, kiddies---and if it can survive the wretched product that it pumped out for most of the 1980s, then it can survive just about anything.



O'Brien (top) and Paar: 50 years apart, controversy about "Tonight" swirls around them


Paar quit "Tonight" for about a month in 1960, angry over NBC's decision to censor a joke of his, without telling him first. But Jack not only quit---he did it on the air. It was February 11, 1960.

"I've made a decision about what I'm going to do. I'm leaving The Tonight Show," Paar said that night. "There must be a better way to make a living than this, a way of entertaining people without being constantly involved in some form of controversy. I love NBC [...] But they let me down."

And off Paar walked, leaving flabbergasted announcer Hugh Downs to finish the show.

When Paar returned on March 7, he opened with the now famous, "As I was saying before I was interrupted..." The first four words became the title of Paar's autobiography.

Paar admitted on his first night back that his quitting "Tonight", on the air no less, was less than mature.

"Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I'm totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business, but I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past."

Almost 50 years later, controversy has returned to "Tonight." Again, the network is to blame.

But they can't kill "Tonight." They might just maim it, however.

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