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For the roundup tonight, I watched Leno and Conan, of course, but I made sure to catch all of Letterman too, because all the pre-game hype this evening was that the big chin and ol…four-eyes (what do you call Letterman?) really laid into each other tonight. Side note: we all know the shows are pre-taped, but doesn't it really ruin the fun of late night where we already know the monologues before they air?


I tuned in rubbing my hands with glee, overjoyed that all the Conan drama had spilled over to such an extent that Letterman was opening old wounds and holding Leno's feet to the fire. Sure, I'm Team Conan like any other red-blooded internet user, but he's focused more on how NBC are jerks and how sad his situation is. Letterman, on the other hand, is a mean, mean bastard. You just know he is. Take an unrelated segment on his show tonight, where he gave an overjoyed girl scout leader lady $2,000 just for showing up in his audience. She looked all moved and practically grovelled in thanks, but Letterman was having none of it, basically saying, give her the money and get her out of here.

This is what we turn to The Late Show for. When Letterman has some cheesy guest he's never heard of, plugging some movie, he couldn't seem more bored, and the show is barely watchable. But when he's energized by something, you can't look away. Still, I was a little disappointed that the worst he did was accuse Leno of pushing out Johnny Carson back in the 90s. Maybe it's too far to say that's common knowledge, but it's certainly Wikipedia knowledge. I'm hoping for one of those juicy, evil rants from Letterman, like his tirade against McCain for skipping his show back in '08, that barely even pretends to be funny. I want MALICE!


The rest of Letterman was pretty standard, and Will Arnett was ruined by having to promote one of his movies he obviously hates, so instead he talked about his kid for two whole segments, yawn. But boy oh boy, that was a thousand fucking times better than sitting through The Jay Leno Show, which I did for the first time ever tonight. I've caught the monologue a couple times here and there, and I watched Kimmel eviscerate him on 10@10, but this was the first time I braved the whole show, live, without changing the channel.

It's misery, really, it is. Are there readers at AV Club who watch this crap more than, say, once a week? If so, I dunno how you do it. From the opening seconds, where Leno gets mobbed by the crowd like he's some messiah, to 10@10, which is like an interview with a guest, but with awkward satellite pauses added in to kill any possible chemistry or rhythm, the whole experience was so dreadful, but I couldn't even groan with displeasure. Not only is it dreadful, it's boring. In the second segment on this primetime talk show, after his lame-ass monologue, Jay read cutesy future predictions by 10-year-olds off of cue cards. There's nothing less cute than Jay Leno reading out kids' letters. Kids themselves reading? Sure, that could be cute. Leno? No.


As for his monologue, Leno's only big jab at Letterman was over the whole sex scandal, which he's poked at a few other times in the last couple of weeks. It's definitely fair game, but I wish he could come up with something better than exhuming Borscht-Belt lines like "Best way to get Letterman to ignore you? MARRY HIM!" Zing! Even Kevin Eubanks had to force himself to laugh at that one. No, the only shocking moment of the whole hour for me was when, during the little clip package of James Cameron's career before his interview, they showed the fucking chestburster tearing out of a woman's chest from Aliens. Oh, sure, you can show that at 10 p.m., but Adam Sandler can't call NBC cunts on the Tonight Show?

Let's flip over to Conan. I love Conan. He's such an adorable dude. And I feel sorry for him and all that he's getting fucked by NBC, but really, I'm of the opinion, like most people I know, that this is the best thing that could have happened to him. Watching him do the Tonight Show was usually painful. Now, he gets $40 million, and maybe he gets inspired enough to do something truly wacky. Behind the aw-shucks grin he's plastered on, there's hints of slight mania behind it every night. His funniest bit tonight was buying a Bugatti, slapping some mouse whiskers on it and playing "Satisfaction," crowing that the whole one-minute segment was going to cost NBC $1.5 million. I'm sure it was within the show's budget: I don't think Conan's quite dangerous enough to literally rob NBC on-air; but it was amusingly demented nonetheless.


And hell, his mocking sketch about the babies born during his seven-month tenure on Tonight (cut to: dozens of hamsters!) was a malicious jab at Leno's syrupy "aw shucks, little kids!" ending to his run at Tonight in 2009. And one of his monologue gags basically called the NBC execs child molesters. Who knew Conan had it in him?

When it comes to the regular monologue zingers, Conan's never been very good at it, I feel, even when he could be a little more wacky back on Late Night. One of his lamest gags, something about Madonna's aged vagina, fell so flat that he rightly mocked the audience for clapping. Even the triumphant return of the masturbating bear seemed forced by all the coverage that horny little dude has gotten in recent weeks.


Still, I gotta say, Conan's been doing a good job, better than Letterman or Leno or Kimmel or anyone else, during the Late Night wars, or whatever they get called. It'd be so easy for him to feel sorry for himself and allow his guests just to commiserate with him. It'd be just as easy for him to go totally apeshit and try with every sketch to get publicity not for his jokes, but for his behavior. But he's obviously trying to prove to everyone, now that the spotlight is back on, that he's a funny dude. Not so Fox will cut him a big check, or NBC will see the error of their ways, but because Conan's still got some pride left in him. That's the biggest kick I've gotten out of the whole escapade.

Oh, and the less said about Arsenio Hall, the better.


Leno: F

Letterman: C+

Conan: B+