Leno Backlash Continues; News Corp. Publication Compares Leno to Hitler
Just because Conan O'Brien retired gracefully from the Tonight Show on Friday does not mean that the war on Jay Leno is over. The Wall Street Journal published the proof yesterday in former Movieline contributor Joe Queenan's damning editorial, which alleged that Leno's reign of terror at NBC is eerily similar to Adolf Hitler's annexation of Central Europe in the 1930s. And if history has taught us anything, Queenan predicts that Leno will not stop at reclaiming the Tonight Show -- the host will try to get his grease-stained hands on NBC's entire late night line-up. All in all, an interesting essay comparing NBC's failure to one of the greatest misfortunes in world history -- even more interesting knowing that the Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp., which also happens to own the network currently trying to woo O'Brien.
This would not be the first time that a News Corp.-owned publication skewered a late night host on a rival network. When news of David Letterman's extortion scandal and interoffice affairs was uncovered in October, Murdoch's New York Post slammed the Late Show host repeatedly, even going so far as to track down the grandmother of his mistress in an assisted living facility and printing her remarks about her granddaughter's relationship with Letterman.
In yesterday's Wall Street Journal editorial, Queenan took aim at Jay Leno and NBC, the network who weakly allowed Leno to bully them into giving him back the Tonight Show, even if it meant "[stabbing] Mr. O'Brien in the back."
Jay Leno, much like Adolf Hitler, is a master of making secret demands for foreign territory and then acting like the wronged party. First he pretended that he wanted to annex only the first half-hour of Mr. O'Brien's "Tonight Show." Here he was mimicking Hitler, who insisted that he merely wanted to annex the German-speaking Sudetenland, not all of Czechoslovakia.
Then, adopting the craven British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a role model, NBC stabbed Mr. O'Brien in the back by agreeing to let Mr. Leno reoccupy the first segment of his old "Tonight Show" slot. NBC's defense was that Mr. O'Brien had dismal ratings, and the show was a bit of a mess. But the same can be said about Czechoslovakia, a hodgepodge cobbled together after the First World War that never really got its act together.
Here's where the parallels become even more eerie. In acquiescing to Mr. Leno's sotto voce demands to annex one-half of "The Tonight Show," NBC thought it could put the whole ugly controversy to rest. Wrong. Interpreting generosity as weakness, Mr. Leno began to maneuver for complete control of "The Tonight Show." Here he was again taking his cue from der Fuhrer, manipulating his outgunned adversary into a position so humiliating he literally had no choice but to surrender. Just as Edward Beneš, president of Czechoslovakia, was forced to abandon ship once he had been betrayed by his erstwhile allies, Mr. O'Brien was forced to abdicate and cede his entire one-hour program to the man he had replaced. He did get a significantly bigger going-away present than Beneš, however.
Today, NBC--much like Chamberlain--is daft enough to believe that Mr. Leno's demands will now cease. If history is any guide, this is unlikely. After pocketing Czechoslovakia, Hitler immediately took dead aim at Poland. Using the same game plan, Mr. Leno will soon go after Jimmy Fallon, who follows "The Tonight Show," quite possibly demanding that NBC expand "Tonight" to its original 90-minute length.
Just as Hitler sought to return Germany to its prewar stature by acquiring Austria and the Sudetenland, Mr. Leno will seek to restore "The Tonight Show" to the mythical stature it enjoyed under his predecessor. Hitler wanted to be thought of as the second coming of Frederick Barbarossa. Mr. Leno wants to be thought of as the second coming of Johnny Carson. Joey Bishop might be more appropriate.
And just as Hitler made his annexation of Austria appear to be the Austrians' idea, Mr. Leno will need Mr. Fallon to invite him to assume command of the show. Perhaps NBC can offer him the same $32.5 million Mr. O'Brien got, and an extra $10 million not to kick up a fuss. At this point, who's counting?
NBC probably believes that once Mr. Leno controls both late-night television and late-late night television, his dreams of global conquest will be sated. Well, everyone knows what happened in the Danzig Corridor in 1939.
So if you're anchoring the 11 p.m. news program that precedes "The Tonight Show," don't get too comfortable. The blitzkrieg is right around the corner. And you're Poland.
· NBC Will Regret Appeasing Leno [WSJ]