Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

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Comedy is a competitive sport

Q: Jay Leno is back in his 11:30 p.m. "Tonight Show" slot, after a disappointing run in prime time and a messy showdown with Conan O'Brien, who briefly replaced him. Can Leno win back his status as king of late night and all-around nice guy? As viewers turn away from the networks, can anyone be expected to dominate an increasingly splintered audience? Are the days of Johnny Carson-like success over?

The monotonous monopoly of network television is over, and it is true that viewers are less dependent today on the major networks than they were in the days of Johnny Carson, who was the undisputed king of late night. But while we have more viewing choices than ever, these aren't necessarily all better choices, or programs that would compete directly with a late-night talk show.

Jay Leno is popular, to be sure. How can you argue with 5 million-plus viewers per evening?

"The Chin," as he is called, and his sidekick, Kevin Eubanks, read each other like a book during the monologue. Leno has been well served by this indispensable straight man. But Hollywood sources report that Eubanks will be leaving in the not-too-distant future. This will affect Leno's ratings and overall likability, so his long-term success on "The Tonight Show" remains hard to predict.

The days of a Johnny Carson are not necessarily gone. Network TV continues to keep an edge in many ways, because the networks enjoy larger budgets that buy better writers, producers and performers.

A real star could again dominate the diffuse and overburdened late-night market if he or she could develop the loyal following that Carson had. He was good with his deadpan delivery that made many of his often-lame jokes and routines pretty funny. Conan O'Brien may be off "The Tonight Show," but he is still one to keep your eye on. Just a few days after joining Twitter, he had one-half million followers.

Keep being very funny, Jay. Comedy is a competitive sport. And that's no joke.

By Jan Scruggs  |  March 4, 2010; 10:02 AM ET  | Category:  Comeback attempts Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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