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NBC’s Latenight Song and Dance Is Getting Tired (Opinion)

After 12 hours or so to contemplate the Twitter reaction to Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon’s song parody about the uncertainty over who’s going to be hosting “The Tonight Show” 18 months from now, here’s one of my own: Call me old-fashioned, but would it be too wacky for the network to actually provide some genuine clarity, one way or the other?

At this point, it seems like NBC is going to try to get by with the old soft-shoe routine until its upfront presentation in May, which only ensures latenight hijinks will obscure its development. And while that might be a public-relations strategy, it’s not much of one.

The main problem with the song was that it’s completely off point. Nobody is suggesting either Leno or Fallon are bad guys, or at each other’s throats. Fallon’s hardly the first later-night heir to want a promotion. So really, who gives a damn if they’re such good sports that they can jointly laugh about an unsettled situation?

Leno and Fallon, in other words, aren’t the problem here. It’s the suits at the network, who have (since some initial denials) been reluctant to do anything that would either shoot down the reports or concretely confirm them. Faced with such a vacuum, the press is free to speculate, and gossip, and then speculate some more — particularly with Leno mining the situation’s absurdity in his monologues, continuing a well-established tradition of comics biting the hands that feed them. (Jon Stewart also weighed in on Monday, quipping, “Silencing a comedian doesn’t qualify you to be president of Egypt. Just president of NBC.”)

Maybe NBC brass are waiting to address the whole thing in song — or one of those parody Hitler videos, which actually approximates the bunker mentality that appears to have set in. Because right now, the latenight situation has become such a mess they can skip right past “Smash 2” and just title the whole thing “Downfall.”

“Who cares who hosts ‘Tonight?'” Leno and Fallon sang near the end — to the tune of a song from a musical that predates the 18-49 demo.

Hey, play cute long enough, and eventually nobody will.

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