by pat howard

‘Late Shift 2’: Conan’s out

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm

The night before O’Brien’s final Tonight Show, I borrowed The Late Shift from the library. Juxtaposition = achieved. The parallels are eerie.

Almost twenty years after his retirement, a biography of “the real Johnny Carson” is poised to appear, detailing the quiet desperation of America’s nightlight. I can only imagine what a similar tome about Jay Leno might detail. Deserved or not, Leno has taken quite a beating in this whole mess.

O’Brien’s much-ballyhooed farewell speech recalled for me the quiet grace with which Carson handled Letterman’s call for advice near the end of The Late Shift. Storytelling, especially on TV, relies heavily on perception. Letterman and O’Brien come across as men who care about broadcasting, and who respect the rich cultural legacy of the medium.

Leno, both in his Late Shift characterization and in the events of the last few weeks, comes across as a company man with no regard for the nature of the company. This is what he can do, and he’d be as content to call bingo at the VFW hall or host an open mic night, if he thought either of those could make a career.

Maybe it’s that Leno never had to work to get Tonight; it was all but handed to him…twice. I wonder what Johnny Carson would have made of this debacle. I’m curious about whether Tilda Swinton would entertain an offer to play O’Brien in a TV movie. As TV has always instructed, we must stay tuned.

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