Late night hits back

"I'm Conan O'Brien, the new host of 'Last Call with Carson Daly.'" Plus: Leno and Letterman join the pile-on

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published January 12, 2010 1:13PM (EST)

It's one thing to bite the hand that feeds you; it's another to gnaw vigorously till you hit bone. On Monday evening, Conan O'Brien walked on to the stage of "The Tonight Show"and let rip with a bitingly bitter, hilariously cruel monologue for the ages. Introducing himself as "Conan O'Brien, the new host of 'Last Call with Carson Daly,'" he laid out his options, including: "star in a Lifetime original movie about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her network," "convince NBC to let me keep this time if I gain ten pounds of chin," and "leave television altogether and work in a classier business with better people, like hardcore porn." He even got in some brief chin-thrusting, Leno inflected mimicry. ("How'd I get back hee-ah?")

Gleefully surveying the wreckage from the sidelines on CBS, meanwhile, Letterman announced, "Once again, I did not get 'The Tonight Show'" and presented his "Top 10 Signs There's Trouble at NBC" ("Winner on 'Deal or No Deal' gets to run the network for a week."). And Craig Ferguson, before landing a self-deprecating punchline, said "this whole mess is a direct result of atrocious  management by a once great American network."

O'Brien's time slot and his entire future with the NBC may be up for grabs, but the debacle is already proving rich fodder for his writers -- and vastly entertaining for us. And in case there's any doubt who the favorite of the NBC harem is, Leno's abashed Monday monologue is the network's "clip of the day" ("NBC said they wanted drama at ten; now they got it.") this morning, while Conan's isn't even posted yet.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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