Jay's Torch Passes to Conan, But He's Not Fading Away

As Jay passes the torch to Conan, he keeps one for himself. But can either hope to unify the audience?

Illustration by Francisco Caceres for Time; Frederick M. Brown / Getty (2)

It may just be coincidence, but The Tonight Show somehow seems to know when America is going through a generational moment. Johnny Carson took over the show in Camelot-era 1962, after J.F.K. became the first greatest-generation President. Jay Leno replaced him in 1992, just before baby boomer Bill Clinton defeated our last greatest-generation President. Now, just after Barack Obama's Inauguration, NBC has put another tall, skinny young guy, Conan O'Brien, behind the desk. (O'Brien and Obama, who did a guest bit on Conan's second night, may be technically a hair shy of Gen X status — but as the...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!