With Jay Leno and NBC twisting the knife in Conan O'Brien's back, we should take a look at one of Conan's best segments ever. "He said we're all gonna get killed, let's get out of here. And then he made out with a guy."
I'm a Letterman guy, so that makes me a Conan guy too, since Conan's style is 1980's Letterman. Letterman is a far better interviewer, but they both use surreal (like above) and ironic comedy, which doesn't always get Joe Six-Pack. If you keep score by viewers, Leno, even at 10pm, is more popular. If you keep score by awards and acclaim, it's Letterman and Conan. For those of us who grew up with those two and not Leno, Letterman's popularity during the 2008 election and Conan's ascent to "The Tonight Show" was a sign that smart humor was coming back on network TV.
Of course, that means splitting the audience, which takes some of the blame for NBC's ratings hell at 10pm and 11:30pm. Of the six network late night hosts, Leno is the most wide reaching in terms of appeal. Letterman has influenced Conan and Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson is British absurd/surreal, while Jimmy Fallon is more performer than comedian. Add Jon Stewart (another Letterman guy) and Stephen Colbert to the mix, you get a bunch of guys fighting over half the pie and Leno getting the rest. Someone has to pay and that's Conan.
By NBC giving Leno an 11:30pm time slot and keeping Conan in a 12am "Tonight Show", they can blow up their experiment at 10pm without breaking any contracts. (Conan has a huge buyout if he's not hosting "The Tonight Show", but nothing that says he goes on at 11:30.) It does stick a thumb in the eye of those of us who are comedy snobs. First Letterman gets passed over on NBC and now Conan gets shuffled back.