Winners & Losers Of 2010 (Part Five)

Winner:  Conan O’Brien

He wouldn’t play ball.  And he earned universal respect for it.

The second host of NBC’s Late Night thought his future was secure when in 2004 he signed a deal to take over The Tonight Show in 2009.  Jay Leno agreed to step aside and leave the network.  Unlike the debacle of 1992, this looked like a smoother transition.  Only Howard Stern publicly opined that it was too good to be true, that Leno would never truly relinquish the show he had been helming for nearly 20 years.  (He even told a disbelieving Conan that to his face during a Late Night appearance in 2006.)

Sadly, Stern was right.  Just a few months after Conan began his late spring 2009 run as the new host of The Tonight Show, The Jay Leno Show premiered at 10 p.m.  And that’s when all the trouble began.

Despite strong starts for both shows, ratings dropped considerably.  It didn’t help that reviews for Leno’s prime time Tonight Show retread were dismal.  NBC affiliates revolted.  The network immediately sprang into action looking for a possible compromise.

In January, to the surprise of no one, The Jay Leno Show was cancelled (new episodes continued to air up to mid-February, just before the Olympics).  In turn, NBC weasels made a proposal to Conan:  how about giving the big chin your first half hour (11:35 p.m. to 12:05 a.m.) and moving your show to 12:05?  After much contemplation, the redheaded comedian did something remarkable.  He walked away from his dream job.  As he noted in his famous public statement, O’Brien felt it was a bad idea to move The Tonight Show, a franchise he has a lot of respect for, out of the 11:35 time slot.  He refused to go along with the plan.  Incredible.

That meant only one thing.  Coco was out, Leno was back in.  David Letterman came to life during the whole ordeal ripping on his former friend night in and night out.  (He also got to imitate him to his face in a hilarious Super Bowl ad that also featured Oprah.)  Howard Stern eagerly joined in as did his pal Jimmy Kimmel who did an entire show impersonating Leno.  He even went on The Jay Leno Show to mercilessly goof on the host for his actions.  The Daily Show got in the act, as well.

As a result, Leno’s bogus nice guy reputation laid in ruins.  An appearance on Oprah didn’t help matters.  Meanwhile, the Team Coco movement was in full swing as the awed comedian found himself dumbfounded by the widespread online and offline support for his bold position in an awkward professional situation.  As his comedic jabs at Leno and the network got sharper in his last days on The Tonight Show, Conan put on a brave, defiant face, particularly during his last show where he showed more grace and class than NBC truly deserved.

After securing a hefty parting gift for himself and his loyal staff, O’Brien stayed off the air for most of the year, thanks to a lame legal requirement sought by his former network.  In the meantime, he travelled the United States for two months (April to June) on his acclaimed The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour, which culminated in an appearance on 60 Minutes.  A month after the tour was announced Coco found a new job as the host of a new late night show for Ted Turner’s TBS.  It debuted in November to respectable numbers and mostly positive critical assessments.  It started off strong with an average of nearly 3 million viewers tuning in that first week (in December, ratings were closer to that of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report; respectable but not huge) but more importantly, it’s the number one late show in the 18-34 demographic.  The first episode featured a terrific pre-taped opening that reminded fans how much we missed our Coco.  And then there were the American Express commercials.

As for Leno, his ratings for his second go-round on The Tonight Show have fallen to levels below even O’Brien’s run.  And, as before, few critics have been thrilled with his version of the show.

If that wasn’t somewhat bittersweet for Coco, consider this:  Jeff Zucker, the former Today Show producer turned network pinhead responsible for this whole unnecessary debacle in the first place, is no longer with NBC. 

Conan might’ve lost The Tonight Show but his integrity and decency remain firmly intact.  The same can’t be said for Leno and Zucker.

Loser:  Tiger Woods

If only he’d kept it in his pants.  The golfing great’s double life as a philandering hedonist was first exposed in late 2009 just before he crashed his SUV following a heated argument with his then-wife Elin Nordgren.  By the time the new year arrived, if Woods thought his worst days were behind him, he was sadly mistaken.

As mistress after mistress after mistress came out of the woodwork to tell their stories and comedians salivated at the comedic possibilities, Woods took a break from golfing and despite a couple of apologetic press releases, he mostly stayed silent and out of public view.  On New Year’s Day, AT&T dropped him as a sponsor.  12 days later, General Motors announced they were ending their association with the golfer, as well, which had already expired on New Year’s Eve. 

In February, he made a more public apology on TV.  Looking like someone had pointed a gun to his head, the shellshocked golfer admitted general infidelity and unBuddhistlike tendencies but avoided specifics.  Considering that only his wife was owed an apology, it was clear the speech was a foolhardy attempt to save his public image.  Few were persuaded.  That same month, Gatorade stopped sponsoring him.

When he returned in March to play in The Masters, he finished a respectable fourth tying with K.J. Choi of South Korea, a result he would repeat in two other tournaments.  However, he would perform no better in any other competition in 2010.  That’s right.  He went an entire season without winning a single title.  That hasn’t happened since he turned pro 14 years ago.  Things were going so bad, his coach quit in May after he withdrew from The Players Championship.

In June, Joslyn James, one of his porn star playthings (who has filed a lawsuit against him), participated in a British documentary entitled Tiger Woods: The Rise And Fall.  During the program, she claimed to have been impregnated twice by the golfer.  The first one allegedly resulted in a miscarriage.  She allegedly aborted the second.  The documentary was also broadcast in Canada three months later.  (It re-airs on CBC’s Passionate Eye tonight at 10 p.m. with an update.)

As for his personal life, his marriage to Elin completely crumbled.  According to The National Enquirer, Woods admitted to an astounding 120 affairs.   They divorced in late August.

Somewhere in the world, Jack Nicklaus must be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 31, 2010
12:26 a.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  

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