It doesn't matter whether you're on Team Coco, Big-Jawed Jay, or Carson Daly - just kidding, there's no such team! - for the first time in recent memory, late night matters again.
No more can talk-show guests simply tell stories about Robin Williams being "quite a prankster on the set," or say, "I have no idea what we're about to see" when they set up a clip. No, now they actually have to weigh in on their allegiance in the late-night wars, take a side, and have the courage of their convictions to defend it.
Sadly, it looks like things are beginning to wind down, though we can look forward to Conan's last show tomorrow night, the renewed Leno versus Letterman feud when Leno returns to the Tonight Show, and the return of Conan when he lands at another network and launches a new show (minus the masturbating bear).
And the great, national pastime will become a ratings watch, as we spend our time wishing, hoping, and praying that Leno has a major crash and burn, proving that NBC was wrong yet again.
As the dust clears, here are the winners and losers as I see them:
- Jimmy Kimmel
One of the greatest things I've ever seen on TV is Jimmy Kimmel slamming Leno on his own show, to the apparent horror of Leno and his audience.
And that was the day after Kimmel did the first part of his show as Leno himself, a scathing impression it was, complete with chin, lisp, and witless banter, Leno-style.
I didn't know that Kimmel had it in him, but he does, and now I'll watch his show forever.
- Conan O'Brien
Before this whole mess, the general consensus among Conan fans was that his Tonight Show was pretty weak, and nowhere near the brilliance of his work on Late Night - a show on which I interned as a researcher in 1994.
I worked on Conan's show with Maggie Wright, daughter of then NBC President Robert Wright. Every day, she had another bad-news story about Conan's chances as host: "They've offered Late Night to Greg Kinnear," she told me one day.
Had Kinnear actually taken up NBC on the offer, Conan would've lost Late Night 15 years ago, and that would've been that.
But now, Conan's become a modern-day folk hero: the nice guy screwed over by "the man," solidifying Team Coco's brand loyalty and ensuring that he has a dedicated fan base for all time. Way to screw the pooch, NBC.
- David Letterman
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Letterman has served it up to Leno night after night after night, culminating in the above clip, where he mocks Leno's fake high fives with the audience, and accuses him of stealing his material, Howard Stern's material, and Howard Stern's announcer.
Letterman was in Conan's position 15 years ago, so he can relate - but, even better, Letterman is a performer who is funniest when he's angry, as Sarah Palin, John McCain, and now Leno know only too well.
Over the past two weeks, Letterman's sermons from the desk have grown more and more biting. On a recent show, he reminded his audience that Leno once hid in a closet to listen in on an NBC conference call. Later in the show, Kiefer Sutherland showed up in a dress, and made a joke about coming out of the closet "with Jay Leno."
- Craig Ferguson
Just as funny as always! Sorry, Jay, this man - not you - has the funniest monologue on TV.
- Jay Leno
Only Jay would practice damage control by trying to position himself as a victim, which he's done with depressing regularity and ineptitude.
In the above clip, he reaches the lowest of the low, asking people not to blame Conan O'Brien. Uh...I don't think anyone was blaming Conan.
In the wake of the scandal, Conan's ratings have skyrocketed as Jay's brand has sunk to greater depths with each passing day. Now everyone can't wait for Jay to fail at the Tonight Show, which - let's hope - he will do as quickly as possible.
Get ready for a rocky return to the Tonight Show, complete with syrupy speech and waterworks from the guy who's used to people loving him and can't seem to understand why they've stopped.
- Carson Daly
His lack of impact on anything and anyone was parodied on last week's SNL and Letterman helpfully pointed out that the difference between not having a show and having Carson Daly's show is negligible at best:
Runner up for irrelevance: Jimmy Fallon, whoever that is.
NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has become a household name for all the wrong reasons and NBC Universal Chairman of Sports (no kidding!) Dick Ebersol took the network from low-class to no-class, slamming Conan and Letterman at once as "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings."
- The Daily Show
Time was, we'd get "comedy" on the Daily Show. Now we get Stewart mugging at the camera and shouting in lieu of "punchlines."
I think Stephen Colbert is just the man to replace him. Wait a sec...do I smell a new late-night feud?
Let's sit back, relax, and watch the fireworks, shall we?