At least in Philadelphia, PBS late-night host Tavis Smiley goes head to head "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" at 11:30 p.m. on WHYY (Channel 12), where he'll be interviewing Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre tonight, but it sounds as if he'd rather be facing Jay Leno.
He doesn't know Conan O'Brien, he said, when I asked him what he thought of what's going on at NBC this week, "but Jay I consider a personal friend. I thought it was a mistake for NBC to force him out of that [11:35 p.m.] time slot. I think there ought to be rewards for being No. 1 for as long as Jay was No. 1, and I don't think the reward is to be forced out. Let's put it this way: If I ever become No. 1 in my time slot on all TV networks, PBS had better not think about forcing me out," he said, adding, "I say that very lovingly."
Though Smiley said he thinks "this may very well go down as the biggest mistake in the history of television...as a black guy on PBS, making what I make, it's hard for me to feel sorry for either of these guys."
Television is changing, he said, "but at the same time there is a comfort in constancy, and I just think NBC ran into something they couldn't figure out."
One thing Smiley's figured out: At the commercial network level, at least, "it seems easier to be the president than to be an African-American or female talk-show host."