Thursday, January 14, 2010

The latest...

Conan’s biggest supporter? That would be David Letterman. Letterman showed a segment called “Jay Leno: The Early Years,” with random found-footage of what he claimed was Jay “sabotaging [his] school’s production of Peter Pan.”

Letterman excoriated “the pinheads, the nitwits, the twits, the knuckle-draggers, and the mouth-breathers” who run NBC. And he did a list of the Top Ten messages left on NBC exec Jeff Zucker’s answering machine that included, “Hi, it’s Jay. All in all, I think it’s going pretty well.”

My friend and colleague Mark Harris suggested to me that it was Leno’s joke early in the week that “I didn’t sleep with my staff for nothing” — all the more piercing for being such an off-topic, out-of-left-field, gratuitous gag — that has helped stoke Letterman’s renewed, glowing flame of fury at the late-night situation. That could very well be. But I also think Letterman loves all the behind-the-scenes power moves, he loves dissecting who went wrong when, and how this mess confirms his decades-long belief that people in power tend to be deluded and out-of-touch with reality. (This informs his politcal humor as much as his show-biz philosophy, which puts him squarely in the Johnny Carson tradition.)

But the Conan debacle has brought out a fresh zest in Letterman. He picks his targets precisely. He’s the only host who’s brought up how burned new NBC owners Comcast must be. He’s the only host who’s connected the dots between Conan’s situation and the botch NBC made of the 1992 Tonight Show transition.

And he’s the only host who’d make the joke he uttered last night, saying that Leno had “also taken over the grave of Merv Griffin.” I always like a gasp when I laugh.

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