Saturday, January 23, 2010

Coco's Last Stand

By now, everybody has weighed in on Conan O'Brien's final "Tonight Show" -- it was "heartfelt," "classy," "gracious." (It was also a huge ratings success.) I suspect that even people who don't normally watch Conan now realize that they'll miss him.

Something else that the whole world is weighing in on -- what should O'Brien do next? I thought about that during a scene in the latest episode of ABC's sitcom "Modern Family," in which teenager Haley had to learn how to use her dad Phil's incredibly complicated universal remote control in order to prove to her mom that it could be mastered by a non-techie. Haley said something along the lines of, "Why should I have to learn to use it? I watch TV on my computer!"

For all the whining about how if only Team Coco had actually tuned in to watch "Tonight," he would still be on the air, I would be willing to bet that millions of his fans preferred watching chunks of the show online to sitting in front of the TV at 11:35 each night (or even TiVo'ing it). Witness the speed in which the best bits of this week's shows, like the "$1.5 million" Bugatti Veyron Mouse, sped around the Internet. (NBC may have pulled the clip to avoid having to pay big fees to the Rolling Stones, but plenty of fans made it available anyway.)

For an old-school TV viewer like me, that sort of takes the fun out of it -- I mean, I was watching more-or-less live when Conan unveiled the auto, and it gave me my biggest laugh of the week. A lot of humor is about the element of surprise, and it wouldn't be as funny to me if I had clicked on a link after someone told me, "You've got to see Conan's crazy expensive new character, the Bugatti Veyron Mouse!"

But this is how a lot of people, especially the coveted® young demographic, watches these days, and I hope that wherever O'Brien winds up, be it FOX or a cable channel, recognizes that reality, and finds a way to profit from it.

I was a David Letterman diehard when O'Brien took over "Late Night," and like a lot of viewers in those early days, I found him too nervous and twitchy. I did, however, tune in from time to time, and even went to a taping of one of his earliest shows, back when you could get in simply by showing up at 30 Rock and asking a page for a couple tickets. I remember that Conan came out before the show began and sang a spirited Elvis Presley number, swiveling his hips and running up the steps into the audience. He was obviously someone who was seizing this opportunity and giving it his all, even if it took a long time for NBC to realize they had hired the right guy.

The last Conan taping I attended was during his week in San Francisco, by which time he had become a superstar who had to wait several minutes for the applause to die down before he could begin his monologue. He could have filled the enormous Orpheum Theater, currently home to a production of the musical "Wicked," many times over with all his local fans. How much fun would it be if Conan's new venture takes him to other cities a couple times a year? Surely the same fans who rallied for Coco would be rabid enough to fill big venues in Seattle or Chicago or Dallas or Milwaukee -- or even internationally (his show from Finland was one of his most memorable).

I hope Conan sees this as an opportunity to break free from the conventional monologue/comedy bit/guest format that "Tonight," with all of its history, rigorously imposed on him. Keep reaching out to fans, find a way to capitalize on your Internet success, and last night's show will represent a new beginning, not the end.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Jimmy Fallon and The Roots did a bit in tribute at the start of Late Night immediately afterwards. It turns out Dr. Oz is using the studio that was home to Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

  2. Shane G. said...

    Conan will make a triumphant return late this year or early 2011. I hope it's not an Internet show. I'd much rather sit in front of the TV, every night, and be surprised. I'm 19 by the way. It's fun, and it gives me something to look forward to every week night. There's a whole vibe that goes into it. For me late night TV should be watched on TV that night. I'll miss Conan a ton over the next 7 or so months, and I do hope they can post some internet update videos at least (like he did during the writers strike, before coming back to host anyway). That won't happen though.

    Team Conan

  3. Talk Show News said...

    Shane G., I totally agree that it should not be an Internet-only show -- I think Conan is a traditionalist at heart, he wouldn't go for that -- but it should have some kind of online component. I think Jimmy Fallon has been working toward that, with his strong Twitter presence and the web exclusives he did before his "Late Night" went on the air. Now they just have to find a way to make money from it...

  4. Anonymous said...

    I was one of those people that sort of had Conan on the back burner, as a backup, until Dave retired. My plan after Dave was gone, was to watch Conan again, but now that he's gone from NBC, I'm screwed.

    Whatever he does, I hope it goes better than his last gig at NBC. I'm not CRAZY about Conan now, like I used to be years ago, but I still wish him well and I will miss him when Dave is gone and I'm left with nothing good to watch. ::cries::.


  5. Shane G. said...

    An internet component would be nice, they had the late night underground then the tonight show insider, I think that was pretty cool, and maybe expand on it.