Leno, Letterman, and O’Brien – A Comedy of Heirs
The individual brands of NBC’s late night comics are being trashed, by the actions of management and the comics themselves.
A certain amount of self-deprecating humor is expected from stand-up comedians. But when millions of dollars, a franchise program, and the good will of network affiliates are at stake, one would be advised to tread lightly.
Everybody grouses about his or her boss’s stupid decisions at one time or another. Most do it quietly in the privacy of their own home, or discreetly over a cold one at the bar with a confidant. It’s only natural.
But Jay and Conan are engaged in a self-inflicted public bashing of their individual brands and the network’s brand that will only diminish the value of each.
Who’s the primary benefactor? Dave. He’s aglow. He’s positively giddy with excitement to tell the tale every night. He’s been there. He dealt with the same stupid decision-making process that ultimately bestowed the mantle of late-night television heir to Johnny Carson upon Jay Leno years ago.
Vindication is sweet. Dave’s had his problems of late, but he’s off the spit now. And he’s lovin’ it. He has uncharacteristically bashed Jay “Big Jaw” Leno, and more akin to his style, heaped scorn on NBC management in a way that anyone who’s ever been canned can identify with and cheer on.
You can feel his sense of righteous indignation. It’s palpable. It’s visceral.
That’s what brands are. It’s what they do. They make you feel something – an emotion for or against something or someone.
Me – I’m for Dave, pulling for Conan, and against stupid management. I don’t really care about Jay. He’ll be fine.
In the end, this will shake out and they will all be competitors on competing networks in the same time slot, where their individual brands will rise and fall with the ratings.
In the meantime, brand value is being eroded in some camps and strengthened in others. Rarely does this happen so publicly, with the willing participation of the brands themselves. It’s an instance where the intangible nature of a brand is rendered more vivid and real – even though the heir is not apparent.