FILE - In this March 19

FILE - In this March 19

Just like old times: Letterman, Leno feud in full bloom

NEW YORK — It’s Letterman vs. Leno, redux.

NEW YORK — It’s Letterman vs. Leno, redux.

With Conan O’Brien’s exit official, CBS’s David Letterman and Jay Leno are set to renew head-to-head competition at 11:35 p.m. EST on March 1 when Leno returns to “The Tonight Show” on NBC.

NBC and O’Brien agreed to a $45-million deal early Thursday morning, ending the late-night battle between O’Brien and Leno that had brewed for two weeks after the network announced it planned to cancel Leno’s experiment in prime time.

The Leno-Letterman rematch comes at a time when their feud is in full bloom. Throughout the fallout with O’Brien, Letterman has regularly mocked Leno on “Late Show.” He has called him “Big Jaw,” done a high-pitched impression and said “vintage Jay” had been revealed.

Even though Letterman has said he “doesn’t have a dog in this fight,” his sympathies have clearly been with O’Brien. Letterman went through a similar situation when Leno stepped over him to succeed Johnny Carson on “Tonight.”

Their squabble was memorably portrayed in the 1996 TV film “The Late Shift.” In the past two weeks, Letterman has repeatedly referred to the details of that fallout — such as Leno eavesdropping on NBC executives by hiding in a closet.

After Leno landed “Tonight” in 1992, Letterman set up “Late Show” in 1993. Since then, the two have competed for 16 years, with Leno usually winning easily in the ratings.

Before the current mess, Letterman had seemed to have moved beyond any dislike of Leno. In a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone, he questioned NBC moving Leno out of late-night and said he “has greater appeal for more people than I do.”

But clearly old wounds haven’t healed, as Letterman’s glee has shown.

“I’m telling jokes and making fun of Jay Leno over and over and over, relentlessly, mercilessly simply for one reason,” Letterman said on Monday’s show before pausing and smiling hugely: “I’m really enjoying it.”

On the prime-time “The Jay Leno Show,” Leno has punched back. In particular, he’s using as ammunition Letterman’s admission last year of having had affairs with members of his staff.

“Letterman has been hammering me every night,” Leno said on Wednesday’s show. “You know the best way to get Letterman to ignore you? Marry him. He will not bother you. He won’t look you in the eye.”

Last week, Leno said Letterman’s attacks surprised him because “usually he’s just taking shots at the interns.”

Their sniping has been one of the most captivating sideshows to the O’Brien-NBC debacle.

How it will play out once Letterman and Leno are again front and centre — without O’Brien in the middle — will be another issue.

The dynamic has long been that Leno triumphs in ratings thanks partly to his “Mr. Nice Guy” image, while Letterman wins with critics.

But Leno’s image may have been battered in retaking “Tonight” — Letterman has been far from alone in his criticism. Among the many comics to take the side of “Team Conan,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel was perhaps the most ruthless, doing an entire episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in a scathing Leno impression.

And Letterman’s ratings have been up recently. The “Late Show” averages about 4.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen figures. That, however, is still less than the 5.3 million nightly viewers “The Jay Leno Show” has averaged at 10 p.m. since its fall debut — about the same number he got as host of “Tonight.”

Doug Spero, an associate professor of mass communication at Meredith College in North Carolina and a former TV news director and NBC employee, said the back-and-forth between Leno and Letterman works as both “self-promotion and cross-promotion.”

“Letterman has picked up strength,” said Spero. “After a certain amount of time, Leno will come back and win slightly. But I don’t think he’ll ever be as strong as he was.”

Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, said NBC expects Leno to “be competitive right away.” Gaspin said Leno’s image isn’t hurt much because the situation has been “inside-Hollywood” and that Middle America doesn’t “have any clue what’s going on behind the scenes.”

“We believe Leno will be the late-night leader again,” said Gaspin.

Marc Berman, who writes “The Programming Insider” for Media Week Online, questioned Gaspin’s prediction.

“The dynamic has changed because now Leno is going in as the underdog,” he said. “Leno looks like a laughing stock, so that gives Letterman the upper-hand. I don’t assume Leno is going to bring back every viewer he ever had.”

As for a Letterman-Leno smack down, Spero said, it reminds him of “the good old days of real competition.”

“I don’t know if it’s healthy or not for the industry,” he said, “but at the very least it’s fun.”

On the Net:

http://www.nbc.com

http://www.cbs.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is shown at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai
Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize single-event betting as a bill reaches final reading in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

Letisha Reimer is shown in a photo, part of a memorial to her outside Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday, Nov.7, 2016. A B.C. Supreme Court judge is expected to deliver her decision today over whether a man who stabbed two high school students is not criminally responsible because he had a mental disorder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geordon Omand
Man who stabbed two students in Abbotsford, B.C., found criminally responsible

Man who stabbed two students in Abbotsford, B.C., found criminally responsible

Light from the sunset hits the skyline in Toronto, Ont., on Tuesday October 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Hate crimes jumped 51 per cent in part spurred by pandemic, Toronto police report

Hate crimes jumped 51 per cent in part spurred by pandemic, Toronto police report

A passenger from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi arrives at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday April 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canada to suspend flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days

Canada to suspend flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days

Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. is shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Inter Pipeline *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Hostile takeover target Inter Pipeline reports 60% of Heartland plant is contracted

Hostile takeover target Inter Pipeline reports 60% of Heartland plant is contracted

Smoke pours from the stacks at the Portlands Energy Centre in Toronto on Thursday January 15, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

Most Read