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Ten Tidbits About This Late-Night Television Debacle

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By now, unless you're dead, you're aware that Conan O'Brien has been hosting The Tonight Show for the past few weeks or months. By most accounts, he won't be hosting it much longer because not enough people watch it and Jay Leno would like his old job back. While lawyers sort through the details, everyone on late-night TV is busy trying to figure out how they can profit from this unseemly mess.

Who knows? I might even start tuning in to these people on a regular basis. But that seems to be exactly what "they" want. (I'm not sure who "they" are, but whenever you put annoying air-quotes on anything, it's a sign that it's probably not a good thing.)

Here are 10 things we've either learned or had reinforced by this made-for-TV debacle (or learned years ago in the Robert Altman film The Player):

10) It's About The Money: According to the New York Times, "Mr. Leno dominated the late-night ratings since the mid-1990s, rarely losing even a night to Mr. Letterman." While Conan, it appears, cannot repeat this success. Of course, Leno's success is inexplicable. But it speaks to the heart of the free-market system. People want white bread with mayonnaise. People will get white bread with mayonnaise. The people have spoken and the people are wrong, as they often are. But a ratings point is a ratings point and no network is run as a charity organization.

9) Conan's Poor Ratings Are Solely The Fault Of Conan O'Brien: When it's time to play the "Blame Game," it all becomes the fault of Conan O'Brien, who doesn't want to shift his show to 12:05am and essentially be in the same spot he was in previously. Rather than provide greater support, the executives who run the network keep scrambling until something works. Instead of applying and sticking to an agenda, they change up the game every few weeks. Ever watched a network advertise a show for months before its debut only to can it two weeks after it airs on two different nights? Genius!

8) No One Likes Hollywood Studio Execs: Hollywood studio executives are members of the exclusive Universally Loathsome Individuals Club. Everyone hates them because everyone knows they could do just as lousy a job and cash those big paychecks that are usually reserved for bankers who screw us out of our money. Even on the rare occasion that a Hollywood studio executive is right, no one cares. Mostly because that same studio executive quickly reverts to the "wrong" position anyhow.

7) Everyone Really Hates Jeff Zucker: That said, there is no more reviled network executive right now than Jeff Zucker, the guy who wants Conan to move to 12:05am. To be fair, Zucker is trying to undo all the previous network screw-ups, which I'm sure were someone else's fault (Obama?). He's trying to restore NBC to profitability and respectability by taking the long term plan of having Conan O'Brien take over for Jay Leno and turning it into the short term plan of having Jay Leno take back over for Conan O'Brien, all with a touch of class and decorum.

6) When Studio Executives Are Wrong, They Rarely Lose Their Gig: This gets filed under why people hate studio execs so much. When you or I screw up, we get called into the boss' office and told we're either being penalized or being let go. When studio execs screw up, they either fire someone else or move to another network for even more money. Whether this actually happens as often as it seems doesn't matter as much as the "idea" that it happens. Execs should be familiar with this concept since they work in the perception industry.

If Conan O'Brien loses his gig, don't feel as bad for Conan as for the people who work on his show and never make anywhere near the amount of money that Conan does. However, I have read that Conan is generous with his staff and is a stand-up guy, which is why...

5) Conan O'Brien Has A Lot Of Friends On The Internet: People are so genuinely sick of lying politicians, useless cable news prognosticators and opinionators and greedy Wall Street types that the chance to rally for a guy who comes across in both words and action as a genuinely caring, nice guy is too resonate to pass up. We know nice guys finish last. We just wish it wasn't always so.

4) David Letterman Is Best When Really Annoyed And Not Just Pretending To Be: This whole war-of-the-words is really lighting a fire under the late night talk show hosts' butts. Letterman's made a career out of swatting the flies away as he makes it back to his office. He may be the only guy on TV who looks completely comfortable on it but also looks as if he's thinking about how nice it would be back in his private bunker. His jokes about Jay "Big Jaw" Leno have put an edge in his voice that we haven't heard since the annoyed disdain and frustration he's shown the topic of Sarah Palin. Even Conan's been showing some teeth, but...

3) Jimmy Kimmel Could Make A Living As A Jay Leno Impersonator: No one has benefited more from all this late-night idiocy better than Jimmy Kimmel, whose dead-on portrayal as his insanely successful rival is as natural as Tina Fey speaking as Sarah Palin. Kimmel took it up another notch by appearing on Leno's 10@10 segment and letting fly on how Leno should take his $800 million and leave the rest of them alone. Kimmel's often the afterthought in these late night talk show wars, but that's shame since he's got one of the meanest, nastiest wits in the biz and will one day have enough time for Matt Damon to appear on his show.

2) Most People Still Don't Know The Answer To The Question: Who Is Carson Daly?: The whole idea of Conan moving to 12:05am engineers this whole chain-reaction line of thinking that ends with Carson Daly's show starting sometime around the crack of dawn. However, whenever most people get to Daly's name, they say it like they're not sure they're pronouncing it right, since they've never heard of it before. Has anyone ever been this invisible in broad nightlight?

1) Does Anyone Watch Jimmy Fallon?: I wanted to throw in something about Craig Ferguson or Jimmy Fallon, but I realized I couldn't tell you much about either of them. Ferguson's obviously an intelligent, quick-witted guy but his accent even throws off the people who are doing the closed-captioning, while Fallon looks so uncomfortable interviewing guests that you hope the first guest can stick around to help him with the other ones. In all of America, in all of the world, the talent pool is this shallow? Or are executives not hiring from the right pool? Surely, there's someone who can challenge the likes of Tom Snyder? Isn't there?

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