So let me tell you a quick something about me, the guy who (by default) writes most of this O blog. I am one of the many who claims to be on Team Coco. But my reasons for that have absolutely nothing to do with liking his performance on "The Tonight Show." I didn't. I've never found the guy that funny, when he took over Letterman's gig or when he got Leno's. I have no objections to him and his comedy, by any means, I just am more of a Letterman kinda guy and have been since I was a teenager staying up late waiting for Dave to put on the Alka-Seltzer suit.
Full disclosure: Never watched Leno, either. He's brutish and broad and way too common-denominator for me on a regular basis. Which is exactly why he killed in the "Tonight Show" ratings all those years. He's got a line on the heartland funny bone. And, sad though it may seem to some, he'll most likely kill again when he returns to "Tonight" on March 1. Or at least by summer when we (thankfully) forget about this nonsense.
I'm breaking the fourth wall here because I'm confident that I'm like most of the people who also jumped onto Conan's bandwagon -- like the 94 percent who claimed they were "on his side" of this dreadful Jay-Conan melee in a poll on Oprah.com. If everyone who claims to be on Team Coco had actually watched the show, none of this would be happening. But we didn't, really. Jay failed at 9, and Conan failed at 10:30, and we at least had a cat-fight to entertain us as NBC did what corporations do to protect their bottom line.
So why, if I wasn't necessarily a fan, did I and others chose sides? Two reasons: 1. Everyone loves the underdog, and 2. Leno -- as evidenced in today's chat with Oprah -- has proven himself to be pretty selfish, even if it's kinda understandable.
Throughout today's interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Jay sounded like he was running for something in Tuesday's Illinois primary. Three times he referred to job creation and saving jobs. When Oprah asked him point-blank if he ever thought he was being selfish by reclaiming "The Tonight Show," that was his defense: He had to save the jobs of his staff. But that wasn't his first answer to the question. He initially said, "I like the job and all that comes with it."
When we get down and wallow in the sometimes unpleasant truths of human nature, who can blame the guy? He's right: For the first time in about 60 years, "The Tonight Show," under Conan's brief watch, was on its way to losing money. And Jay appears to be quite sincere when he says he had no idea that NBC would turn to him and offer a return to "Tonight." ("Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I think they'd ask me to go back," he told Oprah.) He's no fool: He took it. And while we wish he was somehow nobler, he's not. Conan himself said it's the best job in the world, and today Jay said the same. He almost had a shaky junkie's look in his eye. Primetime was methadone for him, but now he's got the good stuff again. Ahhhhh.
Oprah, to her credit, pushed him a little near the end. She and Jay go way back; she wasn't exactly Mike Wallace, of course, but she did have the courage to pursue the sticking point that brought so many of us fair-weather fans over to Team Coco.
Oprah: Didn't you think you were the reason [for Conan's departure]?
Jay: No, I wasn't the reason. The reason was the ratings. ... I'm not sure what I could've done differently.
Oprah: [somewhat incredulous] Lots! You could've walked away!
Jay: To me, that's the ego. To say, "OK, I'm outta here."
That's his rationalization: It would have been more obnoxious for him to walk away with his nose in the air than to be what he sees as a loyal employee and go back to doing what made the bosses so happy. Again, who can blame him? An extremely powerful network came to him with supplications, on their knees, saying, "We screwed up. You da man." In addition, he's the hero, saving jobs. "It's a team effort," he said of his staff. "As long as I'm working, they're working." (Which Conan realized, too, which is why he made sure his staff was ably covered in the massive severance from NBC.) Much earlier in the conversation, Oprah asked Jay if he ever considered saying no to NBC. Without an instant of hesitation, he answered, "No."
"I always thought I was doing the right thing," he added.
The only aspect of this interview that rose to the level of poignancy was the fact that Oprah was doing it. She just announced she's quitting her show. She recognized some appropriate exit point and will wave a triumphant farewell next year after 25 years on TV. She expressed some of what's going through her mind about this looming threshold: "Who am I without a TV show when I've had one for 25 years?" she said she's begun asking herself.
Jay laughed off her departure, though, appearing not to believe that she'll actually go through with it. "I'm not going anywhere, neither are you," he said, claiming that they'd both keep on forever. ("If you're a gunfighter, you like to die in the street," he said -- his second fighting metaphor of the interview.) Oprah was amazed. "You don't believe I'll do it?" she said of leaving her show. Jay smirked: "I believe that you believe it."
A great Michelle Shocked song features this climactic refrain: "The secret to a long life is knowing when it's time to go."
Here's a transcript of today's entire show:
OK, let 'er rip, and let's be done with this silliness.
What did you think about Jay's interview today?