Late Night Wars Fallout: What Happens To Carson Daly?

By Eric Ditzian

All week long, as the swirling storm that is NBC’s programming ineptitude has blown through the late-night landscape like it was unleashed by Roland Emmerich, Conan O’Brien and his cohorts have been having a blast. Jimmy Kimmel’s white-hot loathing for Jay Leno bubbled over on Tuesday night (January 12). David Letterman seems like he hasn’t had this much fun since he donned a suit of Alka-Seltzer and dunked himself into a water tank. And Conan’s LOL-inducing mix of heartache and creative inspiration has won over the hearts — and the remote controls — of America.

Everyone’s having a blast, that is, except NBC’s Carson Daly. The host of “Last Call with Carson Daly” and former frontman of MTV’s “Total Request Live” is the odd man out, seeing as his show will get bounced if NBC’s rejiggered lineup comes to fruition.

“My goal right now is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy [Fallon] as part of our late-night lineup,” said Jeff Gaspin, the chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, when this brouhaha first broke.

Ouch. The late-night hosts, too, can all agree on one thing: No one cares much about Carson Daly. Has he been joining in the bout of late night mud-slinging on his show? Impossible, because “Last Call” has been in reruns, but Daly in a very surreal professional limbo that has put him on the sidelines.

So what are Carson’s options? What’s gonna happen to the guy when this situation shakes out? Let’s take a look.

Pray He Gets To Keep “Last Call with Carson Daly”
Pros: If Gaspin gets his wish and Fallon slides back to a 1 a.m. start, Daly is screwed. The affiliates take over control at the 2 a.m. hour, which means Carson simply cannot have a show. He has to keep his fingers crossed that either Conan holds his ground and keeps his 11:35 slot or Leno retakes “Tonight” at the usual slot and Conan walks (or they both walk, leaving Daly and Fallon as the last men standing). Either way, something has got to give.
Cons: The fact that the boss didn’t mention him as part of NBC’s late-night picture is a little troubling, so even if enough people do walk away, Daly could still be left out in the cold.

Stay in the NBC Family
Pros: Even without “Last Call,” there would be plenty of room in the NBC universe for a guy with Daly’s talents. He can keep anchoring their New Year’s coverage or get a judge’s spot on one of their reality competition. He could pitch a fifth hour of “Today” where he and Tiki Barber can kibitz about home decorating solutions. There are any number of places in the lineup with a Daly-shaped hole, and all of them are easier to see than the his current position.
Cons: Even if it’s on late, stepping out of your own late-night show onto someone else’s stage would be quite an ego blow, and Carson should have more self-respect than that.

Come Back to MTV
Pros: Even though he’s been on NBC since 2002, Carson and MTV will forever be linked. “TRL” made him into a star, a relevant arbiter of pop culture taste, an entertainer that Hollywood had to respect. Lucky for Carson, Alexa Chung has recently vacated her afternoon show. Carson can head back to Times Square and launch a revamped version of his original program.
Cons: Cons? There are no cons, obviously! MTV totally treats all its employees with love and respect! Our shows rock! (See: Shore, Jersey.)

Leave TV
Pros: Rather than take NBC’s programming scraps or another shot at cable, Carson could leave the boob tube all together. Ryan Seacrest has flourished on pop radio, as Carson once did himself. A number of entertainers have had second acts as politicians. Write a book, start a charity, create a weight loss program so people can follow your pounds-shedding example. Carson’s a well-known personality and his options exist well beyond the scope of the television dial.
Cons: Why should Carson let NBC’s screw-up utterly change his career path? He made his name on the small screen and, reinvigorated by this latest late-night shift, he can make his name again. He doesn’t have to be forever known as the “freaky ho” in NBC’s pimp-tastic late-night lineup.