Saturday, November 6, 2010

Conan O'Brien Deserves Another Chance!

Wouldn't it be sweet if Jay Leno becomes Conan O'Brien's first guest on his new talk show?
It debuts on Canadian TV Monday at midnight on Comedy (repeated an hour later on CTV).
Not likely! But just maybe?
Leno and O'Brien haven't been talking much lately.
Spme seven years ago NBC announced Conan would take over the Tonight Show from Leno in the fullness of time and when that happened all hell broke loose.
To keep Leno from defecting NBC president Jeff Zucker gave him the 10 p.m. slot in prime time --for the entire week night, canceling all the expensive hour dramas that were going nowhere.
And Conan finally got his coveted Tonight Show.
But Leno's ratings at 10 predictably tanked and that meant the local newscasts at 11 for NBC affiliates also tanked and the weak lead ins meant the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien tanked.
What a mess!
NBC was forced to pull the plug on Leno at 10 and to prevent him from bolting to the opposition NBC created a new half hour show for Leno smack dab in his old 11:30 p.m. time slot.
That meant Conan was moved back to 12:10.
And then Conan broke ranks and NBC settled $32 million on him to decamp which he did amidst the constant blare of tabloid publicity.
Leno then got back his beloved Tonight Show but ratings have been seeping away and he now draws fewer eyeballs than Letterman.
Conan launched a comedy tour, then signed with TBS. Why TBS? Because Fox's affiliates demurred at the price tag (or so I am told).
Since Canadians don't get TBS we'll be able to see him via the Comedy Channel at midnight Monday through Thursday.
John Stewart and Stephen Colbert will precede him starting at 11 p.m.on Comedy. They were too powerful in the ratings to be slotted any later.
Now it just so happens I've been a big Conan fan from way back when.
When Conan came on NBC in September 1993 I was one of the first TV critics to interview him.
I sat in the audience during a taping at Rockefeller Center and later chatted him up in his rather small and dreary dressing room.
My first impression: he really was freckled, stood taller than I expected and seemed genuinely eager to please.
He'd only been on air for a few weeks but he was improving every night. That initial nervousness was something I found oddly appealing --he definitely was not another stand up comedian.
At first he had troubles attracting guests and joked to me he was interviewing Suzanne Somers too much.
His chubby sidekick, Andy Richter, wandered in, changed in a closet and wandered out only pausing to say "Good night" to both of us.
Then I went upstairs to interview expatriate producer Lorne Michaels who as executive poducer had packaged the show for NBC.
Likeability has always been the key to Conan's success, that and a kind of colleiate humor that grows on audiences.
He's been joking that after pairing down the contestants he has three choices for his first guest: Jack Nicholson, the Sultan of Brunei and Arlene Wagner, curator of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum.
I don't know, I'm still thinking it will be Jack Nicholson because Conan needs big ratings for TBS to brag about
But I've got bad news for you: all those regular comic bits we loved so much are the intellectual property of NBC.
That means the new Conan must reinvent his shtick and I think that's all for the better. But I'll miss the old standards and I'll miss Max Weinberg who is retiring as Conab's band leader.
So the current late night situation is this: Letterman is actually on top many nights iver Leno but at least they're still on full networks with Conan banished to basic cable.
Maybe Conan should have stayed on the Tonight Show at 12. Who knows?
I'd just like to wish this very nice redhead all the best and let's leave it at that.
POSTSCRIPT: So I've now seen the first episode of Conan. My Opinion: it lacked oomph.
Yes, there were the anticipated pot shots at NBC, some mildly funny. But my advice to Conan is to get over it.
Let's see, you ditched NBC because they wanted to run you at 12:05 and now you're on basic cable and with the time difference thing 11 is really midnight anyway. Oh, well.
Ricky Gervaise was the funniest guest. But Seth Rogen, quite slim these days, wasn't much fun at all. The Masturbating Bear made a very odd appearance. Jack White was a great musical guest. The girl from Glee was nice.
It was all very nice.
But remember in U.S. markets Conan will be competing with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for the same basically hip audience. And he's also on a rather obscure basic cable channel in the U.S.: TBS. So good luck.
The set looked basic cabley. It was a woody exterior with a gyrating moon.
And one more thing about Conan. I think he should shave off that skraggly beard.
Will I watch again? Of course. But will you?

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