Jay Leno is scrambling to repair his battered image. He's scheduled a sit down with Oprah next week. The two have always been close. And he's just announced that he'll host the prestigious White House Correspondents Dinner .
J. Max Robbins of the Paley Center For Media said, "Jay Leno has his work cut out for him. I think he's already tried to start to rehabilitate his image."
Last night Leno tried to stay above the fray, not once bashing Conan O'Brien or David Letterman. Letterman on the other hand, said, "People are beating up on Jay Leno, and people say, 'why would you do that?' Well I'll tell you, it's fun."
And as Conan O'Brien winds down his show, his final Tonight Show airs Friday, he feigned nostalgic, saying, "I've been with NBC a really long time. Remember The Cosby Show? I was Rudy." His exit deal with NBC prohibits him from disparaging the network, but O'Brien still managed to deliver a few zingers. "I'm not allowed to make fun on NBC programming, I have to let the programming speak for itself."
Meanwhile, critics are expressing shock at the level of animosity being shown by the late night titans of TV. The New York Times TV critic today called it "an explosion of incivility." The front page headline says it all - "Where's Johnny? Good Manners Take Late-Night Hiatus."
It's gotten so nasty, Leno even went after Letterman's marriage, saying, "Do you know the best way to get Letterman to ignore you? Marry him."
"What really sets this apart from the past is how personal this has gotten. They're taking in peoples families, everything. Everything is fair game. The gloves are off," said Robbins.
And don't expect the bashing to end when Conan O'Brien leaves NBC. Letterman assured his audience the late night wars will rage on, saying "Conan is not allowed to badmouth NBC anymore. Don't worry, leave it to me. I'll take care of that."