Everyone loses in NBC shakeup

By Kevin Wilson: PNT columnist

I had two major thoughts this week, neither long enough for its own column, but combined enough to be way longer than necessary. Sorry.

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As a long-time fan of late-night television, it’s troubling to see the mismanagement decimating the tradition of “The Tonight Show.” But nobody at NBC is completely innocent.

Current “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien’s at fault because on his final “Late Night” show before he took over for Jay Leno, he promised his viewers he would never “grow up.” Well, he grew up, and his not-so-loyal viewers tuned out until they heard O’Brien’s job was in danger.

Leno has already taken a public beating — as he should for any attempt to reclaim a show he promised to O’Brien in 2004. For more on this, watch last week’s Leno show where ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel eviscerated him.

But if this was an Olympic competition for bad late-night tactics, O’Brien would get the bronze, Leno the silver and NBC executives the gold for not learning from 1993.

The network had firsthand knowledge of how brutal competition for late-night TV could be when David Letterman and Leno were vying for the job, and they didn’t apply that knowledge. NBC complained about O’Brien losing to Letterman in the ratings war for seven months, but conveniently forgot Leno lost the ratings war for 23 months until a fortunately-timed booking of Hugh Grant turned the tides.

And let’s not discount NBC’s role in O’Brien’s ratings by keeping Leno in the fold. The 30 minutes preceding “The Tonight Show” could have been called, “Kneecapping Conan, Featuring Jay Leno.”

If Leno did well, O’Brien would suffer because celebrities will book Leno’s 10 p.m. show filmed in Los Angeles instead of O’Brien’s 10:35 p.m. show filmed in Los Angeles. Instead, Leno tanked, and O’Brien suffered with a lead-in that’s already chased off viewers.

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We get letters to the editor from well-meaning advocates across the county. But one communication left a bitter taste.

“This bill sounds like something Hitler might have written,” the e-mail read.

No matter the subject, lines like that turn me into Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live. All I can think is, “Really? Really?”

A friend warned in 2008 that President-Elect Barack Obama’s rise was similar to Hitler. Both, he said, had populist appeals and had a way with words.

I countered, “Ronald Reagan was an eloquent speaker with a populist approach, but I wouldn’t compare him or Obama to Hitler.” He answered, “Well, Reagan was president so long ago I can’t make a proper evaluation.”

Gotcha. Waxing poetic about a gone-for-decades world leader from Germany is easy, but you’re conveniently ignorant about somebody who was president in your own country during your lifetime.

Whether it’s Democrat Robert Byrd complaining in 2005 about efforts to kill the Senate’s filibuster on judge appointments or Republican James Inhofe calling climate change protesters “the Hitler youth,” we’ve reduced a mass murderer like Hitler to a euphemism for,“I disagree, but invoking genocide’s easier than logical argumentation.”

The Hitler letter? It was about health care legislation not addressing an artificial sweetener. That’s not the governance I’d expect from Hitler, and I wish it wasn’t the level of discourse I’ve come to expect from some otherwise well-meaning Americans.