Why does it matter who hosts “The Tonight Show”?

It’s Conan O’Brien’s last day as host of “The Tonight Show.” In a week of serious news out of Washington and Haiti, the late night TV wars have attracted what even he says is disproportionate attention. Today’s Question: Why does it matter who hosts “The Tonight Show”?

Comments texted to MPR:

I am not sure why all the attention is being paid to the late night TV wars. I guess that it is news but on a scale with all the other things that are happening in the world, it really doesn’t garner that amount or magnitude of attention that it has been receiving. -Richard, St. Paul, MN

Issues of fairness and justice need to apply even in late night world. NBC is another corporation acting without integrity and calling it ‘just business’. -Helen, Minneapolis, MN

I love late night humor at bedtime so its a daily ritual and therefore important to people. At 38 years old, only Conan is funny. -Cory, Minneapolis, MN

It doesn’t matter who hosts the Tonight Show. Celebrities and entertainment are mere tools used by the capitalist system to distract people from what matters… -anonymous

It matters because U.S. Audiences don’t know the difference between news and entertainment. -Paul

Because people will always cling to entertainment regardless of, or in response to, current events. -anonymous

Because some hosts are funny and some are not. -anonymous

  • Garyf

    They don’t. 25 years ago when I was a college kid who didn’t live in the real world, they mattered. Now the real world doesn’t allow me to watch them. Sleep is a good thing.

  • Steve the Cynic

    This is a rhetorical question, right?

  • Laura

    Why? How would I get through my day if I didn’t know who was getting paid millions to sit behind that desk and who was getting paid millions NOT to? Come on. People might want to hear about something besides the economy, elections and disasters, but the lives and jobs of TV hosts is NOT news. They’ll be just fine, and their utterly unimportant TV show will go on.

  • DThomas

    Your question assumes that it matters. That may not be a valid assumption!

  • James

    Never heard of it.

  • It doesn’t matter who hosts television’s longest running late night franchise, but the drama of who doesn’t get to host it always draws attention. As do bone-head corporate management moves that reveal how inept executives can be in the face of fickle audiences. Network television’s audience is eroding almost as fast as newspaper’s paid subscribers. It’s all part of the creative destruction cycle that builds and destroys business models in a capitalist economy. It’s all good and healthy – with fewer and fewer people actually caring.

  • bob

    The question needs to be rephrased thusly: Does it matter which obscenely overpaid, potty-mouth entertainer hosts the Tonight Show?

  • Johnny

    It doesn’t matter, but it is fun to listen to comedians like Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, and O’Brien toss zingers at each other.

  • Craig

    Many people use conspicuous connoisseurship of the works of others (entertainment, music, etc..) as an alternative to defining themselves through their own works.

    For these people, questions of: Beetles vs. Stones, PC vs. Mac, Jay vs. Conan, have an illusory relationship to their self worth. This belief can be exploited by those producing the works by playing up the rivalry, resulting in more devotees and detractors (benefiting both sides in the aggregate). It can also be exploited by commentators to achieve their own higher ratings, by providing solace to one side and rankling the other. But in doing so, both the producer and the commentator sacrifice their credibility in the eyes of those who can recognize these manipulations.

  • I think people are way too hung up on the idea that this show has been running for a very long time. Really, they’re different shows with different hosts, but with the same name. There’s no legacy being passed down beyond what the show is called.

  • Shawn

    I think the controversy highlights a generational rift between leno’s more traditional comedy and conan’s more ironic, family-guy-style comedy. My perception is that people under 30 are overwhelmingly behind conan.

  • Jamin

    It doesn’t matter.

    A more pertinent and life-affecting question of the day would be:

    “How does yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance change the political landscape or the strength of any one voter’s voice?”

    I think that it essentially reduces the the power of one person’s political voice to less than 1. In other words, the power of one vote is now completely diminished by the allowable financial influence of corporations and lobbyists.

    So, unless Conan or Jay are telling NBC where to put its political campaign contributions, it doesn’t much matter one way, or the other.

  • It’s important that the individual that hosts “The Tonight Show” be entertaining. If the host of the show wasn’t engaging and entertaining, the show would have failed.

    Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter whom hosts “The Tonight Show” because it’s just TV.

  • Mary

    It catches attention in large part because of the unbelievable amounts of money connected with the story. How is it that someone is paid $30+ million to stop doing a job? Even though I do not watch either comedian (Comedy Central is my second news source after MPR), I know that somehow, some of my money is going to these guys. It is a window on the craziness the market will allow.

  • Mary

    It’s only important as yet another example of corporate executives making fiscally irresponsible decisions at the expense of their employees. Employee contracts and loyalty become meaningless. As consumers we’re ultimately paying for their decision.

  • Disco

    It matters because the very delicate feelings of Conan and his devoted fans have been irreparably harmed. Cry.

  • Matthew

    It does, in fact, matter, considering how many Americans get their political and currents-event information through late-night comedy shows. And often (because the talk is comedy and not just straight-up news), the jokes reflect a position. With Conan, it was more biting, for example; with Jay Leno, his jokes are simple reinforcements of conventional wisdom.

    Unfortunately, when entertainment outlets (“The Tonight Show,” “Family Guy,” Fox News) turn to politics, they’re main consideration is making the joke funny—not explaining an issue; not reporting the cold, hard facts; and certainly not challenging the audience’s preconceived notions about an issue.

  • Margie

    As a person who lives in the ‘real world’ but works second shift (providing services like after-school enrichment, shopping opportunities, and dinners out for the important ‘real world’ people), it matters as much as what sitcoms or dramas are on the evening lineup. This may be a trivial decision, but it does effect what stations people choose to watch.

  • E. A. L.

    Simply ask, “Does this impact your life?” The reality is the focus on late night talk hosts and provrams in general is insignificant as is the skewed and shallow emphisis on pop culture in general.  

  • Mary

    Well, with Jay Leno coming back, I know it’ll cure my insomnia. Actually I won’t be watching. I’m so disgusted at how large corporations are treating their employees these days. There’s nothing that could possibly be on late night T.V. that could replace a good book.

  • Alex

    Late night shows are a watch dog group. They responding to poor decisions of political figures or “true” news shows that we should be outraged at.

  • Will Shapira

    It doesn’t. Why do you ask such insipid questions? Why not ask:

    1. Why has Pres. Pres. Obama sold out the public to corporate America?

    2. How can the outrageous Supreme Court decision on campaign funding be nullified or reversed?

    3. Who is responsible for the screwup in delivering aid to Haiti?

    4.. Why won’t the Legislature refuse to entertain a Vikings stadium bill when there are so many urgent social problems to tackle?

  • Doug Haftings

    Only to those who want to watch it.

    Late night & the morning news shows have a very small viewerships but the networks put a lot of stock in it. And everyone likes a good fight.

    This adventure so doomed from the start. NBC made it a promotion for Conan who did not assume the Tonight Show but moved his show an hour earier. The people that watched him at 11:35 are not the same as the ones watching at 10:35. The rating show that. To add to the mess they put Leno before him at 9.

    They should have left where he was and found a “NEW” Leno to basically do the same Tonight show.

  • Stan

    It matters is because people and money are high on the list of conversations between humans. This story is about both. People are always interested in the lives of celebrities. When someone gets paid thirty five million dollars to go away it,s big news. Weather is right or wrong doesn’t matter, it happened and it’s news right or wrong. Am I going to lose sleep over it? Of course not but seeing a big corporation like NBC struggle is entertaining.

  • DMox

    It’s not just about Conan. He & his show had a staff of hundreds that are now out of work. The headline should read: NBC Lays Off Staff of Hundreds over Poor Decision Making by Egotistical Exec & Leno.

    But it’s much easier to focus on the two celebs at the center of the battle, and the millions they get paid for being “funny.” (the quotes are there for Leno, not Conan)

  • James J. Johnson

    Who said any of these changes are “news?” It was just those folks that had a monetary interest in the outcome. NBC thinks it can make more money going back to Jay Leno after the news. That’s the only consideration. Do I care? NO!

  • Robin

    It really doesn’t matter in the long run who is the host of the “Tonight Show”. But by the station’s handling of the situation, it hits close to home for many workers who are out of a job or who are fearful they might be out of a job. NBC thought they could save a lot of money by having a talk show on at 10pm. They even bragged that if the show didn’t bring in the ratings, they would still make money off of the show since it’s cheaper to produce than a drama. However, they made a huge mistake. They couldn’t deliver the ratings to the local news shows. So they had to make a change.

    It seems like a lot of businesses take the short view of making money right this minute instead of the long view of how they can use a renewable resource to produce income.

    Plus I bet a lot of people would love to be paid 30 million dollars to “go away” for 7 months. I know I would.

  • John

    It boils down to a cow-tow to a late night heavyweight: Jay Leno. While the boomers love his brand of humor and his personality, they are aging. With that brings earlier bedtimes for that demographic. Late night is the realm of the younger generations. NBC was preparing for the inevitable: the up-and-coming base of the late night world relates to Conan’s humor more than Leno’s. They need to make sure that they don’t lose them. Maybe they jumped the gun. Maybe not. Either way, reversing this decision was a terrible idea for NBC. Now they have Fallon to fill Conan’s shoes. His demographic is way too young to dominate the prime time late night slot. Just like Conan before him, he’s not ready for that slot.