Anyone out there in TVZone land remember that Capra-corn classic, from that great year in film, 1939? (Sure you've seen it - on TNT, at the very least,) "Mr. Smith goes to Washington?"
It's that wondrous tale of the lanky idealist from out west who comes to the corrupt, sordid, festering swamp of Washington and tries to fight entrenched corruption in the Senate which is trying to get through a dam that'll enrich a few senators; Jimmy Stewart's character filibusters the Senate until he collapses after saying these words...
"You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked, and I'm gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause even if this room gets filled with lies like these, and the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody'll listen to me. Some... "
Yeah, it all kinda reminds me of Conan - I think he and Jimmy Stewart are almost the same height - Co's 6'4" and Stewart was 6'3".
Here's Co's now-famous line from his now-famous letter, and I can almost here Jimmy Stewart out there..."somebody'll listen to me....:
"I sincerely believe that delaying the ‘Tonight Show’ into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. ‘The Tonight Show’ at 12:05 simply isn’t the ‘Tonight Show.’”
Of course you know I'm being a little facetious here - the tale of Conan and "Mr. Smith" are an ocean apart, and as everyone who has ever watched TV, thought about TV, wondered about TV pretty well knows, idealism in this bitter hostile land has the lifespan of an icecube in hell.
But Conan's stand is the closest I've ever heard to TV idealism, made better, richer and more interesting by the simple and irrefutable fact that he's right.
"Tonight" at 12:05 is absurd, and likely would lead to the detereoration-then-death of the great franchise; as I've said here, homes using TV (HUTs) evaporate after midnight and so would the power and the glory of "Tonight." Did he screw up by not establishing contractually that NBC would be in breach if it didn't guarantee "Tonight" at 11:35? Maybe, but maybe he also felt that it was inconceivable "Tonight" would air any place else. That wasn't, by the way, a bad assumption.
Conan is kind of filibustering NBC, too, forcing it to make the next move, and forcing it to admit that it too is just another corrupt opportunist with the moral concience of a gnat. He's instantly assumed the high ground here - refusing to accept a job that would ruin the very franchise that defines the network and has definied it for fifty years.
But this movie will have a different outcome. He loses "Tonight," loses his career at NBC, gets a ton of money to sit on the beach for six months, and eventually lands at Fox. He does leave with his self-respect intact.
So for Co, it really is a wonderful life. It's just not the one he and and his fans (including me) thought they were getting.