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Did Conan O'Brien Let Down America?

Conan O'Brien, Late Night with Conan O'Brien Dana Edelson/NBC
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Conan O'Brien said it: "In three months I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I'm headed to basic cable."

Good stuff, but should we be laughing?

By taking his act to TBS, O'Brien has likely doomed his countrymen to who knows how many more years of late-night rule by the unfunny one himself: Jay Leno.

While there was no guarantee that an O'Brien show on Fox would end Leno's maddening reign, it's a lock that an O'Brien show on TBS won't.

Now, sure, O'Brien may end up scoring higher marks than Leno among thirtysomethings. But until 20th-century viewing habits are kicked for good, Leno's going to have the broadcast-network advantage, while O'Brien's going to have the addendum: "He gets great numbers—for cable."

Consider the Comcast-backed source: We're not saying there's anything wrong with cable. And we're certainly not saying there's anything wrong with O'Brien accepting presumably the best deal for him and his staff.

What we're saying is, we cannot stinkin' believe that after everything that's gone down, Leno's the most-watched late-night host in America for now and for the foreseeable future.

While experience told us Leno would resume beating David Letterman once he was back at 11:35 p.m.—and, alas, he has, if in diminished form—we pinned our hopes on O'Brien. Here, finally, was our champion, the one who wasn't viewed as a crank, like Letterman, the one who was enjoying unprecedented popularity, the one would deliver our nation once and for all from the addictive grip of cheesy fast-food comedy.

But now? At best, O'Brien will be Arsenio Hall to Leno's Johnny Carson. (And no, we don't have hope that Leno, like Carson, will think of his dignity and step aside, leaving NBC to see if it can do better, all the while knowing it can't.)

That's not the way it was supposed to be.

To be fair to O'Brien, cable may have been his only TV option. The talks with Fox—the lone broadcast network with expressed interest in him—reportedly were being met with resistance by Fox's own affiliates.

Come to think of it, maybe they're the ones to blame. (Faceless affiliates are a whole lot easier to pile on than our dear CoCo.) If those stations weren't hooked on the income from their Simpsons reruns, O'Brien might've stood a chance at a deal. America might've stood a chance at reclaiming its sense of humor.

But no. Jay Leno wins. Again.

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Follow all of Conan O'Brien's moves, cable-related or otherwise, right here.

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