The Night Shift: Howard Stern Revives the Late Night Wars, Guns For Leno

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Now that Conan O’Brien is back on television, one might be forgiven for thinking the late night wars were behind us. But in recent weeks, Howard Stern has made a return to the talk show circuit, and has come out swinging, reviving the vitriolic Letterman-Leno-Conan dustup. And he’s held no punches about what he thinks of the 2010 scrum. In short: Leno’s the villain, Conan’s the victim, and Letterman is now the man who must overthrow the wretch.

Most recently, Stern took to Letterman’s set Thursday night, and hit the ground sprinting. As he tore down Leno, dismissing the big-chinned one as “horrible” (which made Dave wince, but the crowd cheer), Stern gathered steam. And then he turned to include Paul Shaffer in his rant, challenging both host and band leader to do all they could do to win the ratings battle. As you’ll see, Stern was on fire:

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But last night’s motivational speech was hardly an isolated incident. Remember just two weeks ago, he appeared on CNN and told Piers Morgan that Leno wasn’t fit to wash Letterman’s feet:

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Most of the world has moved on. Leno’s fans can see him in his original time slot. Conan’s fans can watch him too (if they can find TBS on the dial). Letterman’s fans get their familiar, grizzled grouch. Even Jimmy Fallon has emerged as one of late night’s brightest stars.

So it’s a little difficult to understand just why Stern has decided to revive and revile. But given his actions of the last two weeks, and the explosive reaction of Letterman’s audience last night, here’s betting that the Howard Stern-Jay Leno routine is going to continue for quite some time.