The Unbreakable Psychology of Talk Shows

Question: What are your thoughts on what happened between Leno and Conan O’Brien?

Dick Cavett: Well, what did? I haven't read any papers for at least a month. Yeah, oh, that's at once two things. One of the dumbest moves I've ever heard of being made by a network and also it's what I knew when I first heard about it, back when they were telling Jay, "Although your ratings are great, we don't need you forever," so, a wonderful way to treat the psyche of the performer, which is one thing that people never have a clue about, and I knew when I first heard it, this is never going to work. I don't know how exactly, I don't pretend to know why 10:00 proved to be such an awful time for a talk show, but it is. The psychology of that much later, when the Tonight Show's on and people have had a drink or two and are about to go to bed and watch some entertainment before nodding off, is very different from how you feel at 10:00 when you can see Law and Order, and other such shows, and it's just unnatural to turn over to the mess Jay inherited.

I thought Conan was interesting when he pointed out that, that hijack offer they offered him, the cynical thing that no one in his right mind would accept, to get rid of him, when he said that, "You can have the Tonight Show at 12:05." Well, somebody, including Conan, pointed out that 12:05 is no longer tonight, it's tomorrow, so it would have to be called The Early, Early Show, but anything but the Tonight Show, and they managed, I think, to damage, to make somewhat damaged goods of both artists involved. And they also succeeded in making their enemy David Letterman, NBC's competition, more successful than ever. So whoever is responsible for this boneheaded move will, as we know from watching these things, certainly within a week or two, be promoted and given a big raise.

NBC’s recent debacle elicits a long standing fact of late-night TV: whether it’s the mental state that occurs just before going to bed or the effect of having a couple of drinks, people don’t want to watch comedy at 10:00pm.

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