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.

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less