Conan to make his awaited return to TV
The thing I like about Conan O’Brien is that he seems like a guy who wants to do good comedy and at the same time wants to be himself. His best quality is that he is genuine. His jokes don’t always land or feel polished (indeed, they can be incredibly stupid and/or bizarre), but that’s part of his charm. He’s got that shaggy-dog appeal. Take, for example, his Show Zero promo for his new TBS show Conan (premiering Monday), which features grade-Z production values and off-the-cuff silliness.
Here’s a guy having fun and just trying to do something different. Does this work as a web-based “minisode” or a gag? Well, kind of, I guess. I admire the spirit even more than the end result itself. Conan puts himself out there, because he wants to entertain.
This is a vibe that I don’t think anyone gets from Jay Leno, who strikes me as a competent professional with widespread appeal but, let’s face it, is a hack when it comes to both his stand-up and his guest interviews. Safe and bland. That’s perhaps the most depressing thing about the whole Tonight Show fiasco: It demonstrated that on network TV tepid and milquetoast beats out quirky and original. (Well, okay — it actually proved that Leno had the most ironclad contract over which NBC stood to lose most had they let him go instead of Conan.)
The thing is — and I mentioned this last spring when TBS announced Conan coming into their fold — I’m not sure the Tonight Show was ever the right fit for Conan. As much as it was an iconic institution and Conan’s lifelong dream, the simple fact is that the institution was Your Father’s Tonight Show, and trying to change the habits of the existing viewers of that institution (which would probably have been happy watching Leno until they died) was a tall order.
I’m not saying it couldn’t have been done. Indeed, it would’ve been fine had NBC stuck with Conan, had they not been on the hook for Leno’s contract, which had them over the proverbial barrel. What I’m saying is that for the viewers, Conan’s exit from NBC no longer matters, because his move to TBS is sure to be a win. It will likely end up being more appropriate in the long run given how everyone’s ratings are splintered (and going down) anyway. Conan is a somewhat niche-y talent, and his show on TBS will fill that niche just fine. Probably more appropriately (in terms of audience size versus expectation) than on NBC.
Besides, who in Conan’s viewership cared that the Tonight Show was an iconic institution? Those who followed Conan to the Tonight Show were there to see the talent, not the stage. They are the same people who will follow him to TBS. TBS will allow Conan to continue be himself, his audience will appreciate that, and TBS will appreciate him.
For me, the big conflict is that he’s on at the same time as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. As commentators, I’m far more interested in Stewart and Colbert and the headlines they satirize. And talk shows are the first thing to get the ax on my DVR when the hours start to pile up. This is the very reason I stopped watching Conan on the Tonight Show a month or so after he debuted in 2009. He’d made his entrance and was there if I wanted to see him. I didn’t tune back in regularly until the final week or so before his exit.
On a related note, how hilariously awesome is Conan’s desk wash promo? I really admire when a comedian just puts himself out there and utterly GOES for it. The irony is there on full display, but so is the effort. Kudos. Somehow, I don’t think this sort of zaniness would’ve fit in with NBC’s vision of the storied Tonight Show.