June 2nd, 2009


The Daily Late Tonight Night Show Report

Through sheer chance, I had the privilege of seeing both the last episode of Late Night With Conan O'Brien and the first episode of The Tonight Show With Conan O"Brien. That final episode was on a Friday where I had absolutely no plans and happened to remember it was on. That first episode was last night and I just so happened to be gripped with insomnia, causing me to wake up from what I thought was a full night's sleep at 8pm after an hour; and I just so happened to stop writing an aborted short story a mere 15 minutes before it started; and I just so happened to go on Facebook and read people's messages talking about it.

Let's just say a lot of shit had to go right for this to work out.

I'm not the biggest Conan fan in the world; indeed, I'm not really the biggest Late Night Talk Show fan in the world. I like the Daily Show and I love the Colbert Report, but I infrequently find myself watching them at their regularly scheduled times and only occasionally find myself watching their repeats. Essentially, I have to actually be WATCHING television, and be flipping around at the same time.

Officially, I'm a Letterman man through and through; can't stand Jay Leno. Leno the guy I figure I'm all right with, but I've just never found his show all that funny or entertaining. Combine that with the blind Letterman loyalty and my reproach for the way the Tonight Show was handled in the early 90s, and that's pretty much three strikes for Leno.

But, with Conan at the helm, I think I can give NBC another shot. This has truly been 17 years in the waiting.

Let's face it, Conan's a funny guy. I'm not going to say he's the funniest guy on television, but he's up there. His work on SNL and The Simpsons alone prove that. But, there are varying degrees of funny.

Letterman is, I think most will agree, the best interviewer of the bunch. Especially when he has a guest who can engage his intellect and wit. Jon Stewart is probably the sharpest comedian on television; let's just say you don't want to be on his bad side. Of course, when he's overly fawning of someone, it gets a little tiresome, but that's a small price to pay for the fact that he's single-handedly trying to save the world by opening our eyes to all the bullshit going on around us. Stephen Colbert has the best schtick on television, and overall I think his comedy lines up with what I look for in a comedian more than anyone else.

That leaves us with Conan. He's got Letterman's goofy sensibilities, Stewart's intellect, and Colbert's overall appeal. He's quite underrated as an interviewer; not because he'll snatch any hidden truth from a guest, but because he'll take a painfully boring guest and make his interview exceedingly entertaining. He's got a great rapport and connection with his audience, and can take a lame bit and still squeeze every last ounce of comedy out of it. Plus, I'll argue, his show has done for indie bands what Carson used to do for stand up comedians. I've discovered more bands because I managed to slog through the million commercials in the last ten minutes of Conan than I have on any other show combined.

Here's where we come to the bit where I pontificate about the future. You can't doubt this man's ability to hang on and cobble together a widespread audience. Nevertheless, I shudder to think that Middle America is going to determine whether or not our man succeeds. By Our Man, I'm referring to the 20-somethings who've grown up stoned and drunk, chuckling to Conan's insanity. He very well should be poised for a lengthy 30-year run on The Tonight Show, but who knows what the state of Television or NBC will be in five years. By all rights, with his ratings, they should've just given Leno free reign until he decided to hang them up. After all, you're still talking about an audience that's primarily older than Conan, in the +40s. With medical science keeping these fucks alive for longer and longer, we might be stuck kowtowing to their wills.

I'm not saying it would be the worst thing in the world if hundreds of thousands, if not millions of erstwhile Leno fans flocked over to Letterman. It would only seem natural, as you're old, you want to watch an older comedian. But, I'm pretty sure they weren't watching Dave for a reason; he doesn't do broad, safe, Old People humor. Neither does Conan. So, either they're going to learn to embrace the youth movement NBC has taken upon itself, or I don't know what the hell they're going to do. They sure as shit won't be watching Kimmel, Stewart, or Colbert.

Late Night is turning into a young-man's game. Networks are moving toward the still-spry Generation X more and more, to all of our benefit.
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