Conan should have seen it coming.

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Jan. 15 2010 5:07 PM

Conan Should Have Seen It Coming

The lessons of Bill Carter's The Late Shift.

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5. In the early '90s, when Leno was the permanent guest host of Tonight and CBS was wooing him, he worried that it would look bad to compete against Carson, that to do so would contradict his "carefully assembled persona of the all-around good guy, straight shooter, and network team player." Contrast that all-around good guy with the fellow bludgeoned by Jimmy Kimmel on his own show last night to the hearty applause of his own audience.

4. When it seemed possible that Letterman might unseat Leno from Tonight, Leno consciously used monologue jokes about his relationship with NBC as part of a PR campaign, painting himself as a victim. Last week, when he joked, "What does NBC stand for? Never Believe Your Contract," he was actually stealing 17-year-old material from himself.

3. Here's a fun quote to taunt Leno with, Meet the Press-style, recycled by Carter from a piece that ran in the Times on Dec. 23, 1992: "Am I crazy? I feel like a guy who has bought a car from somebody, painted it, fixed it up and made it look nice, and then the guy comes back and says he promised to sell it to his brother-in-law."

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1. Conan should have seen it coming. When, 17 years ago, he had all but inked the deal to take over Late Night, the network weasels blew their own deadline to make a past-the-last-minute play for Garry Shandling, the only comedian who's ever made up fiction stranger than the late-night truth.