Tonight Show comings (Conan) and goings (Leno)

We have news on both the outgoing and incoming versions of The Tonight Show. First, the new: TV Guide obtained a publicity photo from NBC showing Conan O'Brien's new set in California — which is twice the size of his digs up in 30 Rock in NYC, and also somewhat reminiscent of Leno's set, no? Perhaps more importantly, sidekick Andy Richter is back in action, giving us a backstage look at the new offices, whilst pretending to be Conan!

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien debuts June 1.

Meanwhile, Jay Leno has two more weeks to go before vacating his late-night seat and getting ready for primetime in September. Leno's final guests on his version of The Tonight Show will be Conan O'Brien and James Taylor, plus a surprise or two, he told reporters on a conference call late yesterday. Here are some excerpts, courtesy of Eric Deggans at the St. Petersburg Times.

On doing a nightly 10 p.m. comedy showcase: “The real key to this, is having a lot more comedy in the last half hour. Research shows people like the monologue, people like Headlines . . . we'll update those and freshen them up. The real trick is that second half hour. Although my job previous to this was to give a good lead-in to Conan, the job giving a good lead-in to the 11 p.m. news is really, really important. That's where a lot of our affiliates make most of their money. We have some interesting elements that will be a little different There hasn’t been a successful 10 o'clock launch of a dramatic series in the last five or 10 years. There’s no laughs at 10 o'clock. And to me, 10 o'clock is like 11:30. Even young people go, I can't stay up past 11."

But will it work? “I think it will be harder. It’s easier going against a parade of white guys, because they’re all doing the same thing. CSI – that’s the best-looking show on television. We’re just going to offer an alternative. Do I expect to beat them at first – probably not. This is the long haul. This is an economic decision. We can do five Tonight Shows for less money than you can shoot one of these 10 o'clock dramas. If we can hold on and do well – (when dramas are in repeats); Christmas holidays, Thanksgiving, that’s when we're going to make up the difference.”

On handling the weeks and months when it looked as though Leno might not have a new gig at NBC: "The real trick in show business is, not to get too excited and not to get too depressed. My feeling with show business is, you don’t fall in love with a hooker. It doesn’t become my life. I don’t let it absorb me."

"I remember a guy came up to me once and said 'I hate you, but I like some of your jokes.' And I thought, okay, so you don’t like the manufacturer, but you kind of like the product. There are really only about 18 guests in the world who make a difference in the ratings. The rest is up to you. The reason Ellen DeGeneres is the most successful host on daytime television is because she comes with jokes. She’s prepared with material. I always try to have more jokes in the monologue. Some guys have eight or nine, we have 30 or 40. This is like good food at sensible prices. I tell you, I’m a great believer in low self-esteem. The only people I find with high self-esteem are criminals and actors."

"This is sort of mass entertainment. Was Bob Hope the the funniest comedian of all time? I don’t know. Was he the most popular – he was pretty much the mainstay . . . You’re only as good as you last game or your last touchdown. That’s pretty much the way this works."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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