POP RHETORIC: The late wars

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I’ve never liked Conan O’Brien. I always thought his jokes were mediocre and even though he made me smile on occasion, I thought his humour was more reliant on monkey-esque moves than on actual comedy. However, this past week I’ve been hurting myself laughing as his role as The Tonight Show host seems to be nearing its end. More importantly, like many people, I’ve actually been watching the show, which I sure hadn’t been doing since he took over. In this last week as he’s packing his bags, the ratings have been through the roof.

Why are the crowds suddenly tuning in? Conan didn’t get any funnier just because he may be leaving the show. Celebrity wars have become the modern day equivalents of dog fights. Apart from curiosity, the debacle also brought out unprecedented sympathy for Conan, who is staring up with puppy eyes begging for the vote of the people. As emails, supportive articles, and rallies multiply, you can’t help but think that if half the people that claim “I’m with Coco” had simply watched his show in the first place, he wouldn’t be in desperate need of public approval. If you don’t believe me, just look at how many people’s Facebook profile picture is now a shiny redhead.

It’s time American audiences stopped rooting for the underdog and started appreciating people for their talent – or lack thereof. We can’t feel too sorry for Conan. Rumour has it that he will be walking away with a $45 million settlement and the near guarantee of returning to the air with a new show in September. Perhaps they’ll call it, “Leave this one alone, Jay.”

Leno, on the other side of the ring, is much more like the alpha dog. Who knew that late-night wars, just like the Gulf wars, were bound to repeat themselves every decade? The only difference between this scenario and the Letterman vs. Leno fight is that is that Leno has no sympathy this time around. The issue is not that he lied to Conan, but more that he teased him like a cat plays with its prey. You can’t pass on the torch, realize you’re in the dark and try to steal it back. Viewers have moved on from Leno, and his ratings show it.

Hard times tend to yield good comedy, and this affair has provided virtually all the other late night shows with enough material to end the season. Letterman, happy to distract the public from his affair and probably celebrating the fact he is no longer the biggest jerk on late-night, joked about big-chin Leno’s big attitude. Kimmel insulted Leno so much during an interview that Leno skipped half of his questions. Even The Tonight Show has become more amusing to watch as the guests, rather than promote their own projects, prefer interviewing Conan about his own future – Tarantino even offered to film his revenge movie.

As late night shows begin to mimic soap operas that ran out of plot lines, we should stop provoking them and instead watch the shows with the best writers and guests, not the best catfights.