…relative to his predecessors. I anticipate him to do as well, if not better, than Letterman but The Tonight Show is an institution of television. Wind or rain on the TV landsape, you always knew The Tonight Show would always be there as a tender, loving constant. As such, its consistently garnered the highest ratings of the late night landscape.
I just don’t think Conan can live up to that.
I adore Conan O’Brien. He’s to me what Johnny Carson is to the older generation – extremely likable, hilarious and best of all he’s familiar. His schtick hasn’t changed in over a decade, keeping up the self-deprecation and mixing in the absurd. Where else do you get a masturbating bear or a celebration of Fall Foliage day with Mr. T? Hell, where else will you get this much Mr. T at all? And what of Abe Vigoda? What’s to become of him now in the wild of Central Park?
But now he’s moved to 11:35 and Los Angeles, where being smart, abstract and generally intellectual won’t fly in a town where its stars don’t want to look like fools amongst their peers. Sure, they can let loose when they’re all the way on the east coast, but many stars don’t want any of that at home. They want to go on a talk show, talk about themselves and get a brief spike in exposure. That’s it. That’s why they love Leno so much – Leno does nothing but pucker up for every celebrity’s ass.
In this sense, Conan is closer to Letterman where he uses his head to guide interviews and keeps things interesting by recognizing the absurd and capitalizing on it. He isn’t as cold as Letterman seems sometimes, but it’s still very much in the same vein and it can get alienating. Great for the audience, not so much for celebrities not interested in mockery.
So, new show, new time, new location…how is it going to work out? I’m afraid it won’t be well. I want him to be a smash success, but what’s usually the case with critical and intellectual applause is that it simply doesn’t take with the mainstream.
Even NBC eventually realized this, giving Leno a primetime show fearing Conan’s Tonight will pull in far fewer viewers than Leno’s. They knew they couldn’t afford to lose Big Red to a competing network, but they knew he simply doesn’t have the mass market appeal to live up to past Tonight alumni.
UPDATE – The week and a half review.
He’s been handling the show pretty well so far. He isn’t as off the wall as he was on Late Night, but he didn’t exactly conform to mediocrity, either. I miss the string dance and being more intimate with the camera, though. So far the guests have been more or less outstanding, with Conan bringing on the tried and true like Will Ferrel and Tom Hanks. He has a particular repartee with these people, usually ending with them demeaning him, that is really nie to watch.
Reminds you of his time in New York.
Of course, changes were made and the biggest one is that beautiful set. I mean, holy shit that’s a goregous stage. I really love the art deco motif (God did I really just sound that douchy?) and it’s just so much bigger than his old set. But could it be too big? Shots of the audience are rare outside of the occasional cut to poor old Andy, banished to the far nether regions of the stage. It just hasn’t felt like there’s much of a connection with the rather large audience with them being so far away. Late Night made it a point to have the audience be a part of the show rather then just being the obligatory viewers.
Also, the antics have been curbed to a noticeable degree. Besides a really welcome In the Year 3000 update to a beloved skit, it’s mainly just been talking about how different LA was to New York and footage of Conan locally, doing Conan-ish things.
In all, it’s Conan-lite: A softer, less wild version that’s easier to consume. Still, it’s 79 times more watchable than Leno.