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Longtime Leno Producer Says America Would Embrace Conservative Late Night Host

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Jamie Weinstein
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      Jamie Weinstein

      Jamie Weinstein is Senior Editor of The Daily Caller. His work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, the New York Daily News and The Washington Examiner, among many other publications. He also worked as the Collegiate Network Journalism Fellow at Roll Call Newspaper and is the winner of the 2011 "Funniest Celebrity in Washington" contest. A regular on Fox News and other cable news outlets, Weinstein received a master’s degree in the history of international relations from the London School of Economics in 2009 and a bachelor's degree in history and government from Cornell University in 2006. He is the author of the political satire, "The Lizard King: The Shocking Inside Account of Obama's True Intergalactic Ambitions by an Anonymous White House Staffer."

America may be ready for a conservative-leaning late night host, but the networks would never allow it, argues a longtime producer of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”

“I absolutely think America would welcome a conservative late night host with open arms,” Dave Berg, who worked on Leno’s “Tonight Show” for 18 of the 21 years it was on the air, told The Daily Caller in an interview about his new book, “Behind the Curtain: An Insider’s View of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.”

“The critics would despise it, which would give it even more credibility,” he continued. “However, you won’t see this show on one of the major networks, with the possible exception of Fox broadcast, but who cares! There are all kinds of possibilities today with new media, including Amazon, Netflix, Fandor and Hulu. Does anyone really care that ‘House of Cards’ is not on a network, but instead is carried by Netflix?” (RELATED: Is Jimmy Kimmel Now The Safest Couch for Conservatives On Late Night Television?)

In his new book, Berg provides details of what happened behind the scenes of Leno’s “Tonight Show,” including what former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin demanded to appear on the show.

“After the [2008 presidential] campaign, she had a book to promote, and wanted to do the show, but it was difficult to work out the logistics because she didn’t like to be away from her family for long periods of time,” Berg explained. “Finally, the only way we could get her to come to Burbank was to book a charter jet from Anchorage for $35,000. The jet was big enough to accommodate all of her family members.”

Despite Palin’s diva-sounding request, Berg said Palin was “a pleasure to work with” and that the $35,000 was “money well spent.” (RELATED: Adam Carolla Explains What It Is Like To Be A Conservative In Hollywood)

“The audience was interested in her, even Democrats,” he said of her appearance.

The one guest Berg says he was unable to book on the “Tonight Show” was Bill Clinton.

“I tried for ten years to get him, which was particularly daunting because we prided ourselves on booking all of the major political figures,” he said. “But I think Mr. Clinton didn’t appreciate Jay’s Monica Lewinsky jokes. The fact that he appeared on Letterman even though he was also doing Lewinsky jokes just confirms for me that Jay’s Lewinsky jokes were better.”

See the rest of TheDC’s interview with Berg about his book, Newt Gingrich and much more below:

What’s the key to a funny political joke?

For Jay, the key was to be an equal opportunity abuser. He did political jokes in the great tradition established by Johnny Carson. Jay went after whoever was in power. He never favored one side over the other, and he never made the jokes personal. He also never went after family members, just the political figures.

Jay never forgot who his audience was, even with political humor. He knew that his viewers were not happy with Obamacare, and that’s why he was doing jokes about it long before his competitors, including David Letterman. In my opinion, that was pretty edgy.

Was Jay a political person? Did he lean more left or right?

Next to cars, politics was Jay’s favorite subject. He did more political humor in his monologue than any other late night host. And he loved having political guests on the show, no matter what party they represented. Almost every major political figure from 1996 forward appeared as a guest, and Jay was very proud of that. In fact, I believe the political sensibility he brought to ”The Tonight Show” will be his enduring legacy to late night television.

Jay tried very hard to be evenhanded in his approach to politics. But if you asked him about his political beliefs, he would answer that he was a social liberal and a fiscal conservative.

Now that Jay is gone, who do you think is the most conservative late night show host — or at least, the host most welcoming of conservative politicians and willing to make fun of liberals?

I think the two leading late night hosts, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, are smart enough to know that at least half of their audience is conservative, and they’ve done their fair share of zingers against liberals. Fallon even did “dad dancing” with Chris Christie. I think that appearance alone helped Christie immensely in his efforts to put his tarnished reputation behind him. But honestly, I think both Jimmys are essentially apolitical. They’re more interested in pop culture.

Certainly David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert lean left, even though I personally enjoy their humor. I know Colbert is playing a character, but he so heavily invested in that character, I don’t see him becoming evenhanded in his humor when he takes over for Letterman.