Late-Night Hosts Should Concentrate on Shows, Not Each Other

When it comes to late-night hosts, has America ever been more fascinated with relationships between a foursome since the Beatles broke up? The seeming addiction to the ups and downs between Conan, Jay, Dave and Jimmy has passed its sell-by date, don't you think?

Analyzing morality issues in the Conan vs. Jay matter last winter was a compelling -- and maybe telling -- intellectual exercise. Friends and family may have even learned something new about each others' value systems.

One conversation string: you think it's OK for someone to just reclaim something he agreed to give up to a man who wants it desperately? Well, if he gave up something special and isn't doing well with it, darn right a rescue mission is needed.

Further, it was startling last month when Jimmy offered up a crackpot conspiracy theory. He told GQ he thinks Jay had an elaborate plan to wrestle "The Tonight Show" back from Conan that involved him willingly failing in his new 10 p.m. gig.

But now, this comedy and drama has simply devolved into keeping track of which late-night host is cool with the others. It was remarkable and ludicrous this week when suddenly Dave showed up in the conversation.



Conan revealed Dave called during the holidays to make sure they were still good. And Conan said of course we're down, we've "always been good. I said he didn't owe me a phone call, but I appreciated it." Let's hope these personal aspects of the soap opera are over.

Thanks to Johnny Carson's hold on the public for so long, late night continues to receive out-sized attention. So many people -- probably unconsciously -- evaluate the hosts through a prism of whether they are worthwhile standard bearers.

But Carson doesn't mean much to younger generations. And as the memory of his magic fades, that type of interest should too. Viewers will engage in less lofty analysis. Decisions on which show and host they like best won't be so personal or complicated.

When that day arrives -- and it is a while off -- Conan appears well-positioned to grab a chunk of "post-Carson" viewers. His new show on TBS is a solid draw among the 18-to-34 demo demographic. The median age is in the low 30s, while Jay, Dave and Jimmy are all in the 50s.

For TBS, this would seem to be a validation of its investment in taking on the NBC refugee. Conan, of course, beat Dave among 18-to-34 year-olds when he hosted "The Tonight Show," but NBC still kicked him to the curb.

Turner is never press-shy, but curiously has been relatively quiet in trumping the "Conan" performance since the show debuted Nov. 8. Perhaps executives were wary that its strong early showing wouldn't last -- and they didn't want to be accused of over-hyping.

But this week, they felt comfortable enough to come out boasting, releasing figures showing "Conan" led in both the 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 demos over the first eight weeks his show was on TBS. He's "already proven to be a huge success in attracting a young, loyal audience ... the show is even younger than expected," stated Turner's Michael Wright.

Partly since "Conan" viewers tend to record the show and watch later, his 1.4 million 18-to-49 year-old viewers -- by one measure -- led Jay by 7% and Dave by 25%. The show also did significantly better than Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show." And Conan just about doubled Jimmy. (The shows do have different starting times, which may contribute to ratings vicissitudes. Conan is also on cable, which makes any victory notable. )

Still, Turner likely will have to be somewhat more muted in pumping Conan going forward. After he topped Jay in his first two weeks on the air, Jay won the next five weeks -- including by 27% in the latest one. Jay seems to be settling in as the 18-to-49 year-old leader.

Let's hope Jay doesn't use that victory to jab Conan.

1 comment about "Late-Night Hosts Should Concentrate on Shows, Not Each Other".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 13, 2011 at 7:55 p.m.

    Does any of this really matter to the fans of each of those being discussed? It's all used as great material for their routines, and only adds to the "insider" feeling for the viewers. The only real importance of the numbers game is: 'Will my favorite host still have a show?"

    I doubt anyone would switch from their favorite to another simply because of numbers.

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