Is Conan O'Brien's Harvard Snobbery At The Root Of Late Night's Woes?

by BILLY GRAY · January 14, 2010

    Many people cite NBC's ineptitude as the cause of the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien late night debacle. But the Chicago Sun-Times pins the blame on another time-tested punching bag: Harvard


    It seems that Leno is the Southie to O'Brien's Beacon Hill, the Jennifer Cavelleri to Conan's Oliver Barrett IV, the MIT custodian savant to the ginger's hoity-toity grad student.

    Or so says Bill Zwecker:

    "Leno reportedly has always been very lukewarm to O’Brien — and his brand of humor. Coming from his workingclass Boston background...Jay has always been skeptical of Conan, the Harvard-educated kid from an upper-middle-class background."

    It makes for a fun spin on the talk show drama, but I don't completely buy it. For one thing, Leno keeps a collection of antique cars in a garage that's bigger than the average American house.  Now I've got no problem with a guy enjoying the fruits of his labor, but that blue collar faded in the wash awhile ago. For another, Leno's childhood didn't exactly spring from the tattered pages of a Jacob Riis book. He grew up in well-to-do Andover (home of the snooty boarding school) and went to college (at Boston's Emerson, so maybe the perceived jealousy is really just a form of Tufts Syndrome).

    There's more:

    "Leno has always been proud of ‘‘paying his dues’’ and working his way to the top of the comedy heap, via years of stand-up comedy gigs across the country. [Conan] basically parlayed his writing stints on ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’ into one of the most coveted TV hosting jobs in the world."

    Funny People made me an expert on the stand-up comedy grind, so I sympathize with people who tirelessly hone their chops on the drunk-on-Bud, heckler-laden circuit. But The Simpsons and SNL aren't chopped liver.

    How can this be resolved? Maybe the White House can step in! After all, the administration is not above commenting on popular TV programming.

    Maybe like an earlier national crisis revolving around Boston class warfare, Obama can help settle this dispute over a cold beer.