Conan O'Brien was wrong. We should feel sorry for him. He never had a chance.
Jay Leno was, and is, the perfect 11:35 p.m. host.
Note we didn't say best. And, no, we didn't say funniest. We said perfect.
As in the perfect match of man and monologue to lame-ass audience.
The ratings truth is that when O'Brien took over the 11:35 p.m. shift, young adults, those rare and coveted TV viewers who can still move under their own power, fled; the lead the Leno Tonight Show enjoyed for years over David Letterman's Late Show disappeared.
It could be asked how it is that 18-year-olds apparently identify more with the comic stylings of Leno than O'Brien, but we won't bother. No matter what the demographic group's called, we don't believe 18-year-olds watch TV, anytime, anywhere. Certainly not 18-year-olds who think like 18-year-olds.
Now as for 18-year-olds who think like 49-year-olds…
If your mindset's middle-aged—and if you're still watching TV on TV, it is—then Jaywalking's just your speed. And the year 3000's just crazy talk to be tuned out. Which is what NBC knew 18 years ago when it gave Leno 11:35 p.m. over Letterman. (Substitute the Thrill Cam for the year 3000, then lather, rinse, repeat.)
Outside of cable, and with respect to Johnny Carson, the time slot hasn't been cool for a very long time. (Here, go enjoy yourself some Aunt Blabby.) Or rather, the cool kids haven't owned the time slot for a very long time.
Could the old at heart have gotten used to O'Brien if he'd hung around eight years, rather than a criminally brief eight months? Well, let's see, it took the old at heart about 15 years to warm up in sufficient numbers to Letterman, and then only after Leno was gone.
In a way, O'Brien was right. We shouldn't feel sorry for him. He'll find a new home. He'll make a fine show. And, like Letterman, he'll lose every night to Leno and earn Emmy nominations for the noble fight.
Leno deserves the 11:35 p.m. slot because the 11:35 p.m. slot deserves Leno.
With Jay Leno on the move, NBC has plenty of prime-time holes to fill. WWK has all the details right here.