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Leno back to 'Tonight,' where does Conan go next and more -- The TV Column Live

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Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post staff writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; 1:00 PM

Columnist Lisa de Moraes was online Friday, Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions about the drama, comedy and heartbreak of the world of television -- both onscreen and behind-the-scenes.

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This week, she talked about NBC's Great Late Night Trainwreck, the fates of Jay Leno, "The Tonight Show" and Conan O'Brien as well as the season premiere of "American Idol," the news that this will be Simon Cowell's last season and the genius of Larry Platt.

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washingtonpost.com:

Lisa de Moraes: Hello, welcome to the chat. Please take a minute to let us know what you think is the lesson we have learned from NBC's Great Late Night Trainwreck. Your vote counts! Yes we can! blah, blah, blah...

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Washington DC: Just got back in town from a 2 week vacation. Any big news I missed?

Lisa de Moraes: lol...Well, let's see. NBC is nuking another daypart and Simon Cowel is nuking "American Idol" ..nothing much going on here.

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But the Olympics don't start till 2/12!: If NBC takes Conan off at the end of next week (and I was so looking forward to watching his escalating fury for several more weeks) whatever will they put on at 11:30 until it's time for the Olympics? Will Leno do 10 pm AND 11:30?

Lisa de Moraes: my bad. He was scheduled to take hiatus starting that week, but of course the Games don't start until later. This is what happens when you get two hours sleep a night at a Press Tour and simultaneously covering both the nuking of NBC's late night and the nuking of "American Idol" by Cowell....

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Indianapolis: I think Leno deliberately tanked at 10 p.m. He didn't like The Tonight Show being taken away, so he put on a lethargic prime-time show.

The theme song is generic, the announcer sounds as unenthusiastic as possible, 10@10 is painful, that car bit is worthless and even his interviews are worse than usual.

At the same time, he puts all his efforts into his signature bits -- Jaywalking, Headlines and the monologue -- so he doesn't damage his Tonight Show franchise.

Think I'm onto something here?

Lisa de Moraes: No -- I think it was just the best he could come up with. Which says so much about Jay Leno and his producers. I do not think that producing a lousy, failed prime time series is generally considered to be the best career path to becoming the host of a broadcast network's late night show. And yet -- it's so working for Jay Leno.

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Rockville, Md.: Realistically, how quickly could Conan be back on our TV screens? I've been watching his brand of dorky goodness for 17 years and I don't know what late night will be without him!

Oh and wherever he goes, he needs to resurrect Pimpbot. I still miss that crazy switchblade wielding '70s robot!

Lisa de Moraes: I miss so many things from Conan's earlier show. Wish he had not tried so hard to "broaden" out his show. Look where THAT got him. Hopefully when he re-surfaces -- and I'm guessing it will take months to get a new deal done and a new show in place -- it will be with his beloved Pimbot, as well as Conando, Vomiting Kermit, and all his other friends who we have missed so much..

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Jay Leno is NOT like the mold on your bathroom tile!: Mold is funny...

Lisa de Moraes: The mold in my bathroom tile is a laugh riot. It's why I show up for work every day, such a ray of sunshine. Just ask my editor...

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McLean, Va.: TV upfronts, the NBC late-night circus, and the start of Season 9 of "American Idol" -- all in one week. Haley Scarnato! Are you getting any sleep?

Lisa de Moraes: No I am not. On the bright side, I just got to spend the morning with Warren the Ape....

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Greater Green Bay WI: Considering that everybody's ratings have gone up during the Late Night Trainwreck, why doesn't NBC just continue it for several more months?

Lisa de Moraes: An excellent question. It's done wonders for everyone's ratings. Maybe they could announce in a couple weeks they're dumping Jay and giving the late night timeslot to Brian Williams...

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Union Station: Lisa,

I am a huge Conan fan. At this point it looks to be virtually guaranteed that I'm going to lose his "Tonight" show. Can you give me any idea what the odds are that he pops back up on FOX (or another network) with a talker that would continue to feature the beloved Andy Richter, Max Weinberg, and the band. I know that this may be asking you to stargaze a bit... but I saw nothing wrong with the current dynamic of the show and hope that none of these key players would be axed prior to a complete revamp. Basically, I'm looking for Conan's current lineup on another network. Likely?

Lisa de Moraes: No. You'll see Conan, but I'm guessing the new network won't want the show to look that much like his NBC show. That would make the new network look like a loser. I vote to dump Andy Richter and keep the band...

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On the bright side, I just got to spend the morning with Warren the Ape.... : Littlefield? Beatty? Buffett?

Lisa de Moraes: No, silly (lol). Warren the Actual Ape -- the Person of Fabric actor from the brilliant "Greg the Bunny" series.

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Porter St., NW - Am I nuts or ?: has Jimmy Kimmel come out of this mess looking classier/ballsier? I have really never cared for him, but this thorough take downs of Jay have been awesome.

Lisa de Moraes: He was brilliant on Jay's show last night. Too bad Jay's SuperLame 10-at-10 segment wasn't that funny every night. Maybe then Leno's primetime show would not have tanked, NBC would not have had to yank it out of hte 10 p.m. timeslot -- we're hearing up to a third of NBC's TV stations were contemplating the idea of preempting Leno after seeing their November sweep 11 p.m. news numbers -- and NBC would not be moving Leno back to late night and Conan would not be refusing to do "Tonight" at midnight. See -- I KNEW I could find way to make it Kimmel's fault!

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Arlington, Va.: How does Jeff Zucker continue to earn a paycheck, and a large one at that?

Lisa de Moraes: I don't know but I hope, whatever it is, he bottles it and sells it on TV because I would by a couple cases...

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RE: "Hopefully when he re-surfaces it will be with all his other friends who we have missed so much.": Uh. Remember NBC vs. Dave vs. "Intellectual Property"?

"Pimpbot" will have to become "Ghetto Cyborg." "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" will have to become "Victory the Foul-Mouthed Raccoon."

Lisa de Moraes: Didn't Dave win that one? Remember Top 10 List?

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Washington, D.C.: Oh, man, I think I heard one of the best lines ever Monday night, when the woman who got kicked off the Bachelor for an "inappropriate relationship" with a producer told host Chris Harrison, ON A REALITY DATING SHOW MIND YOU, "I don't think my personal life is any of your business."

Lisa de Moraes: "We are shocked -- shocked! -- to discover there is sex going on on "The Bachelor" set," ABC said. It would have been so much more fun -- and done great ratings -- if they had simply brought the producer in front of the camera and had him compete with Bachelor Jake for the chicks?

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Chicago, Il: Lisa - love you on the Tony Kornheiser Show. A quick question about the late night war over at NBC - Conan thinks he was treated badly and all but isn't the way he is handling his departure pretty poor? After all, he did fail at 11:35 where Jay succeeded. Instead of spending his time blaming NBC shouldn't he be you know, taking a little bit of responsibility. The constant whinging is getting pretty old.

Lisa de Moraes: I guess, but me, I'm loving all the whining and back stabbing. Isn't "live" TV great? Some say Conan failed because he was being delivered such a sucky leadin audience which trickles back to Leno's 10 p.m. show. And, let's not forget, Leno's numbers weren't great for quite a while when he debuted. NBC had to do a lot of tinkering with Leno's show before he became Nol. 1 in the slot -- remember how they took him out of the cavernous set and put him in a much smaller, clublike setting, blah, blah, blah?

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BOO-urns!: Andy Richter has been bringing the awesome since 1993. Having him back at Conan's side has been one of the true highlights of this interregnum.

Lisa de Moraes: Okay -- do not throw words at me that I have to look up when I am running on fumes, folks. One and two syllables only, please. I'm not a Richter fan. I love Conan flying solo. Richter always seems to me like he thinks he's in a sitcom with Lucy and Ricky.

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BLEACH!: I find bleach works wonders on bathroom mold. I don't think even that would work on Jay Leno though.

Lisa de Moraes: What is the TV industry equivalent of bleach? I'm thinking we need to find out he's been having afffairs with multiple party girls -- that's the "bleach" in Tiger Woods' career.

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Taking bets!: How will Dick Wolf & Co. spin -this- Late Night Scandal into L&O gold? I'm going to say the loyal Andy Richter stand-in takes out the Leno stand-in. Or is that too obvious?

Lisa de Moraes: Way too obvious. Somehow the Jeff Zucker character needs to be found holding a bloody knife in the third act....

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Arlington, Va.: Why can't NBC address the fact that the majority of TV viewers want Conan O'Brien to remain host of "The Tonight Show," and keep it at 11:35 p.m.? Why are they so concerned about keeping Jay Leno? Isn't Leno the reason they're in this mess--because his poor ratings at 10 p.m. brought down local newscasts and Conan's "The Tonight Show"? Shouldn't they just pull Leno out of the equation and go back to putting dramas into that slot to help boost ratings?

Lisa de Moraes: Well, that is absolutely not correct, pookie. I love Conan but facts are facts and the facts are that Conan has fumbled about half of the audience Leno had in the timeslot. So he does not have "the majority of viewers." What he has is a very loyal fan base which will serve him well when he goes to negotiate a new deal at a network that happreciates what he can do for them in terms of getting a toehold in late night TV -- (cough)Fox(cough)

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Huntington, WV: Lisa,

What would the ratings be if Howard Stern goes on the Tonight Show? Would they allow him? I think the ratings would be through the roof!!!

Lisa de Moraes: Sure they would let him go on -- remember, it's not really "live" TV -- it's taped in the afternoon. But I'm not sure Stern is the force he once was, in terms of audience tonnage, now that he's gone to satellite...

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McLean, VA: NBC has hatred and betrayal, CBS has sex and extortion, and ABC has... Ted Koppel??? Say it ain't so!

Lisa de Moraes: I have absolutely no idea what this question means, but I'm strangely drawn to it... yes, ABC is talking to Koppel about hosting its Sunday Beltway show, but I do not know what Koppel has to do with the sex on CBS. That said, I would love to know more...

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Team Leno: Here's the bottom line. Had Conan been beating or even close to beating Letterman in the ratings, Jay would be vying to be the new host of American Idol.

Conan couldn't match Letterman. He had 7 months to prove himself and 4 of those months were without Leno at 10 pm.

Lisa de Moraes: And yet, seven months is a blink of the eye in late night. Frankly I think one of the things wrong with Conan's show was that he tried too hard to "broaden" out his show -- which was why I was so surprised at Dick Ebersol's super-snarky comments about Conan in the NYT in which he said Conan's problem was he refused to broaden out his show. I was also surprised Ebersol called Conan "gutless" and "chicken hearted" for making jokes about the situation in his opening monologues this week. Oh wait -- it's Dick Ebersol. Never mind.

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What is the TV industry equivalent of bleach?: Having a Sense of Decency?

Lisa de Moraes: Well, we actually were thinking more along the lines of "putting Ted McGinley on his show as his Andy Richter-esque sidekick. Or Sarah Paulson. I can't take credit for those ideas. They come straight from my brilliant producer Paul and our Late Night TV bureau chief Emily Yahr...

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Courthouse: Lisa: I know it's show business and all, but weren't Jay and Conan actual friends? How could Jay do this?

So, Jay's not such a nice guy after all? Is that what this is saying?

Lisa de Moraes: Jay and Conan = friends. You are soo sweet. Don't ever change.... Did you see the "Tonight" show in which Jay had Conan on to pass the torch? If Jay had had a little hatchet -- really I think all TV on-air talent should be provided with tiny hatchets; broadcast tv would not be in the ratings predicament it is in today if all its cast members were provided with tiny hatchets -- Conan would have been stew meat...

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Toronto.: Just please, please tell me that Jay Leno doesn't come back and beat Letterman again.

That would be too much.

Also, I know that Dave has lingering anger towards NBC, but his intense dislike of Jeff Zucker seems personal. By my chronology, the two never had anything to do with each other.

Lisa de Moraes: That is correct. Unless, when I catch up on my sleep, I discover it is not correct. Anyway, yes, I think Letterman needs to cease being quite so personal about the whole NBC late night situation. Cranky Old Man is not a flattering look on Letterman....

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RE: "Ghetto Cyborg" & "Victory the Foul-Mouthed Raccoon": I'd watch that.

Lisa de Moraes: Nope. They just dont have the same zing as Pimpbot and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog... Hopefully Conan is negotiating to take them with him. But, given that his representatives apparently did not get "which will have an 11:35 p.m. start time" put into his contract to do "The Tonight Show", I'm guessing they're forgetting, as we write, to include these important franchises in his exit pact...sigh...

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Kansas City, Missouri: Can you refresh our collective memories on how the "retire in 5 years and hand it over to Conan" compromise came about? Was it foisted on Leno as a way to keep Conan from the beginning, or did it originate from Leno in some way (though with a poor understanding of just how fast 5 years pass)?

Lisa de Moraes: Conan's contract was up and NBC was afraid he'd take an offer from another network -- (cough)ABC(cough) -- and when they asked him what it would take to keep him, he said it had been his lifelong dream to host "The TOnight Show" starting in 2009. And, like some Greek tragedy we were forced to read in high school, this story has been rolling inevitably to this very sad moment ever since...all that's left is for one of them to discover he accidentally picked up his mother at a Hollywood night club and shagged her, and gouge his eyes out, and we'll be done in time for lunch break...

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"putting Ted McGinley on his show as his Andy Richter-esque sidekick. Or Sarah Paulson": I thought she signed with Fox News.

Lisa de Moraes: lol...

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Chicago, IL: Everyone should just switch to Craig Ferguson - the funniest man in late night and totally underappreciated!

Lisa de Moraes: Hi Craig!

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Long live Victory the Foul-Mouthed Raccoon: Would be a great character ... but isn't he on that Jersey Shore show, though?

washingtonpost.com: What about the Self-Pleasuring Grizzly?

Lisa de Moraes: Stop! Stop! You're killing me!

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Raleigh, NC: To what extent are "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" part of Conan's 11:35 problem? I like Conan, but it seems as if Comedy Central is a bigger draw for some of his potential viewers whereas not so much for Leno's older demographic. I have not once thought of choosing Conan at 11:35 over Colbert at 11:30.

Lisa de Moraes: A really excellent point. And thank you so much for a serious question, worthy of our chat. Yes, they are splitting the baby -- and too bad when Conan was thinking it was his lifelong dream to host "The Tonight Show" he did not stop to think that the "Tonight Show" it was his lifelong dream to host really does not exist any more....times have changed and his dreams should have with them... did that make any sense or am I now just babbling?

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Falls Church, Va.: Who do you believe would be more enticing to other networks on the open market, Leno or Conan?

Lisa de Moraes: Comedy Central: Conan
Hallmark Channel: Leno

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Whyyyyyy?: So to further show how NBC "gets it", they send none other than Al Roker to Haiti, whose main contribution I have seen so far is "well, it's not supposed to rain tomorrow, so that's good."

Lisa de Moraes: Like we said, "Today" show better watch its back. NBC may turn its focus on demolishing that daypart next...

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Falls Church, VA: So is "The Tonight Show" really saved? I mean, maybe Conan kept it in the right timeslot, but now it's officially the place they put you when you're not quite good enough for prime time. Not exactly the celebrated tradition Conan was talking about in his statement.

Lisa de Moraes: Everybody's damaged goods in this tragedy. Nicely done, NBC!

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Conan, Leno -: Maybe I'm crazy, but didn't Conan start this whole thing like 5 years ago when he threatened to quit unless he got "The Tonight Show"? I don't watch either show, so don't really know who is actually funnier, but why is everyone laying the blame on Leno? Seems he is, or at least, was originally the victim in all of this.

Lisa de Moraes: I don't know why everyone is blaming Leno. We should ask my brilliant producer, Paul, who wanted me to call Leno a back-stabbing bloodsucking timeslot thief in the poll question...Paul?

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NBC debacle....: But 3 of the 7 months for Conan were during the summer. Who watched TV in the summer anyhow -- local news slippage in those months is normal, right? So that's only four months for both hosts, and neither did particularly well. Jay really should just let it go and roar off into the sunset of retirement -- doesn't he have enough money already? Go Team Conan!

Lisa de Moraes: Yes, absolutely. Back when NBC decided Conan was their guy, they should have cut bait with Leno. They should have let him go to another network. But NBC acted out of fear and put him in primetime. And now, again, NBC was compelled to remove Leno from primetime because they were facing massive preemption of his show by NBC-affiliated TV stations. Fine. They did not have to move him back to late night. They could have just bid him farewell. This is NBC's responsibility. Not Leno's. He's not forcing the network to make these mistakes, over and over again.

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Re: Pimpbot and Friends: Does Conan have his own company producing "The Tonight Show," like Letterman with World Wide Pants, or is it completely owned by NBC? I imagine that would have a lot to do with whether he can keep those characters or not.

Completely unrelated - my girlfriend's younger brother just got an internship with Letterman and has taken to sending us cell phone shots of celebrities in the middle of the night. This is hilarious, yet annoying.

Lisa de Moraes: And, I'm guessing if someone from the show reads this, your girlfriend's younger brother will soon be the former intern on the show....Conan does not own the show, NBC does and your point is an excellent one...

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Blaming Leno: People are blaming Leno because, if he had any self-respect, he would have left the network like Conan is doing now when NBC got rid of his show. Instead, he weaseled around and is now getting his own show back. I don't blame Conan for naming his price. I blamed NBC for giving it to him, and I blame Jay for manipulating NBC into taking it back.

Lisa de Moraes: Who knew that "weaseling around" is the key to longevity on television? I really do think NBC executives are more than capable of making these mistakes on their own -- I dont' think Leno has some magical power over them...

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Pookie,

After your "tiny hatchet" comment, the song "Tiny Boxes" popped into my head.

Idea for a comedy song about Zucker-Leno-Conan- Ebersol-etc. -- "Tiny Hatchets"

Lisa de Moraes: we need lyrics. I suggest we do some ripoff of "Pants on the Ground"... and is anyone, other than me, totally in love with Larry Platt's performance of "Pants on the Ground"?

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Flint, Mich.: To Whyyy?-- Don't forget Al Roker does that early show for the Weather Channel, too. Now that's important..

Lisa de Moraes: speaking of weazeling around and longevity on TV...

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Falls Church, Va.: The reason that many people are hating on Leno is because he attracts a lot of viewers from middle amercia and therefore the east coast liberals think he is the enemy. I'm an east coast liberal fyi.

Lisa de Moraes: Do you think he is "the enemy"?

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Re Ebersol: Why does anyone listen to this guy? He ruined Olympic coverage. Well, unless you don't really like watching sporting events and would rather spend your time watching human interest stories about U.S. athletes. He seems to be ruining the rest of the network too.

Lisa de Moraes: You'd have to ask that publications editors....

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Washington DC: I subscribe to Craig Ferguson's view of the Conan/Leno feud, "It's a couple of middle age white guys arguing over millions of dollars. Who gives a hullabaloo."

Lisa de Moraes: ...and yet, Craig Ferguson is trying to get mileage out of the kerfuffle himself.... hmmmmm...

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San Franciscoco: I know people have said "Conan Failed" but the failure may have happened earlier. I watched on YouTube a clip of Letterman talking about Johnny Carson and how special the Tonight Show was and realized that the Tonight Show franchise was watered down during Jay's tenure. His going to 10 watered it down even more by reducing the celebrity guest list available to Conan.

washingtonpost.com:

Lisa de Moraes: Nothing I love more than a sentimental trip down memory lane...

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washingtonpost.com: Conan's a cry baby and that whole Friends of the Earth showed his instability. Leno deserves the show back if not for anything, the ratings. Bye bye Conan. Signed, Your Other Producer.

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Falls Church, VA: If you put Jay and Conan up against each other at night who do you think would win in the ratings? The correct answer is Jay. So why are people so shocked that NBC wants to have a show with better ratings that anyone else?

Lisa de Moraes: Because NBC had been saying -- right up until they announced they were bumping Conan from 11:35 p.m. -- that they don't care about tonnage, they only care about 18-34 year olds in late night and Conan is a young-viewer play... Leno's audience skews older and he's the guy you hire if you're going for tonnage.

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McLean, Va.: Leno is 59, right? How long will he be able to keep an audience at the Tonight Show? Moving him to 11:35 instead of keeping Conan there seems like a bad idea, for the long term.

Lisa de Moraes: How old was Johnny when he retired. Meanwhile, in our poll, most of you think Leno is like bathroom mold and will never go away (gak!) and only 13 percent of you think Conan was naive and needs to make sure he is smarter in his talks with his next network. This does not bode well for Conan....Have to get back to the Press Tour. Bye...

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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