One late-night host's misery is another's comedic fodder. Which is something David Letterman knows all too well.
This time, though, it was CBS' shining star who got to pile it on his late-night brothers, joining the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien scheduling fray (incidentally, another situation he knows all too well) from the sidelines, but with no less biting a commentary.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, once again, I did not get The Tonight Show," Letterman announced at the start of his show, going on to rip into what pal Craig Ferguson aptly characterized as "atrocious management by a once great American network," all while calling O'Brien "our old friend" and Leno…well, a chin-thrusting, head-bobbing impression could be seen as a gesture of endearment, right?
"It's very confusing over there, very crowded there at 11:30," Letterman said. "Once you get through the local news, things start to bunch up a little bit. I'm a little worried about Conan, I'm not worried about Jay—he'll land on his chin, he always does."
Still, the Late Show host wasted no time in letting his feelings be known on the matter, be it through jokes in his monologue, his Top 10 list ("Top 10 Signs There's Trouble at NBC"), or in a postmonologue segment in which he offered his own creative, free-of-charge advice to the rival network's programming giants. Let's just say, Carson Daly should turn away now.
"The same kind of thing happened when I was over there," Letterman said, going on to explain how, a couple decades ago, he too was shuffled out of the Tonight Show spot, before CBS snatched up his "nickel-and-dime pony show."
After discussing how "our old friend" O'Brien was given the Tonight Show, and "likable young newcomer" Jimmy Fallon the Late Night spot, he came on to…well, that other guy.
"Now, also out there in the ionosphere is Carson Daly, who I've never seen in my life. I have no idea who that is. Never seen him in my life. He's like the Pluto of talk shows: Is it really a show?
"Carson Daly, he's really screwed, but you know what? Nobody seems to care about that."
So what's the solution? According to Dave's "free genius TV advice" for NBC, they should take a cue from the Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira-hosted Today show and let Conan and Jay cohost the Tonight Show.
As for how, exactly, that would go...
"So here's what you do, they come out together, they're cohosting The Tonight Show. Conan comes out, he says, 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Tonight Show, and now here's Jay to tell his little jokes.' Then Jay will do a segment, then Conan will do a segment…That's how you fix the Tonight Show.
"I don't know what to tell you to do about Carson Daly. I got no solutions there."
He did, however, have a couple more punchlines.
In introducing the night's Top 10 list, Letterman got in another dig, after reading a bet-hedging statement from NBC: "NBC hopes to keep Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon."
"Ah, nothing here about Carson Daly,' he said. "Carson Daly was last seen hitchhiking on the 405."
As for the Top 10 highlights, we have a feeling O'Brien had a chuckle at No. 6, "Tina Fey is having a hard time making fictional network executives dumber than the real ones," but maybe not No. 1, "It's so bad, they've even considered me."
If only they had 20 years ago, they wouldn't be in this mess.
CBS, meanwhile, won't find itself in this sort of fiasco for at least two more years. During the network's presentation at the Television Critics Association conference yesterday, they quietly announced that they are close to signing agreements with both Letterman and Ferguson, keeping them both in their time slots through 2012.
Get the scoop from the horses' mouths. Watch Conan and Jay's take on the NBC switcheroo.