Conan’s ‘Tonight Show’ Feels Emmy Love As Leno Is Overlooked

'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien' (NBC)

'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien' (NBC)

It’s Conan 4, Jay 0!

If you’re keeping score, that’s the tally of Emmy Award nominations for the short-lived “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” versus “The Jay Leno Show,” NBC’s even shorter-lived experiment with a nightly prime-time variety/talk show.

What a huge embarrassment for NBC. The network yanked Conan’s “The Tonight Show” in January, just eight months after it premiered, after hyping it for five years. And now, the show they dumped is being honored with four prestigious Emmy nominations – including the top award in late-night TV – while Jay Leno’s 10 o’clock show was totally ignored. And yet, NBC dismissed Conan to reinstall Leno at “The Tonight Show” in the hopes that ratings would improve.

Unfortunately, they haven’t.

Meanwhile, Conan’s “Tonight Show” was nominated for late-night’s highest honor – Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, where it will compete for  with “The Colbert Report,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (the winner in this category for the last seven seasons), “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Conan’s show was also nominated for Outstanding Writing and Directing. Even the art direction of Conan’s “Tonight Show” was nominated for an Emmy.

“Congrats to my staff on 4 Emmy nominations,” Conan shared on Twitter hours after the good news spread. “This bodes well for the future of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”

So… where is Jay? His “Tonight Show” was last nominated for the top late-night prize in 2003, and last won it in 1995 – its only time grabbing that gold. Well, that was always the pattern with Leno – the TV Academy rarely nominated his “Tonight Show” for any of the biggest honors (particularly in the writing category, a prize that is highly coveted in the late-night fraternity). But as long as Leno could sustain strong ratings, NBC was satisfied that viewers loved him, even if the TV Academy did not. Now, though, coming off his failed prime-time show – now shut out of the Emmy race – and with his “Tonight Show” falling in the ratings, could NBC’s love affair with Jay be coming to an end?

And what about Conan? His new TBS show is due to premiere in September, just around the time when he might be making an impressive showing at the Emmys. Now wouldn’t that be an incredible way to launch his new show?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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