Friday, July 30, 2010

Conan O'Brien: Will he be a presenter on the Emmys?

During the NBC executive session on the Television Critics Association press tour, NBC Universal TV chief Jeff Gaspin was asked how the Peacock Network would feel if Conan O'Brien was asked to be a presenter on the Emmy Awards. The broadcast rotates among the four major networks, and this year, it's NBC's turn.

According to New York magazine's Vulture blog, Gaspin's OK with a Coco appearance. "As long as he's not hosting, I'm fine," he said.

The TV Academy has contacted Conan's camp, but so far, there's no indication whether or not he will appear on the show. "The man's busy getting ready for his new TBS gig, and he may ultimately decide it's not worth all the drama (or effort needed to prepare funny material)," writes Vulture's Joe Adalian.  "It could be a few weeks before there's any movement on the matter."

Jay Leno's ratings were also a topic of discussion at the tour.'s Julie Miller reported that Gaspin still feels good about the "Tonight" host's performance, despite the fact that the show's ratings dipped this past quarter to a 17-year-low. "The third quarter, to date, we have a 22 percent advantage over Letterman. It’s too early to make any proclamations about anything, and I’m not worried."

NBC executive Angela Bromstad added, “Hopefully we can improve the health of the primetime shows and that will help Jay as well.” It remains to be seen if upcoming fare like "Law & Order: Los Angeles" and "Outlaw" -- which USA Today's Gary Levin describes as a show about "a gambling, womanizing Supreme Court justice who quits the bench to become a traveling libertarian lawyer" -- will give Jay the lead-in power he needs.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jon Stewart and his beard present "Night of Too Many Stars"

photoWant to touch Jon Stewart's beard? You might have the chance to hang out with the newly hirsute host if you spring for the VIP tickets for "Night of Too Many Stars."

Here's the scoop, from Comedy Central:


Hosted By Jon Stewart With Appearances By Lewis Black, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Joel McHale, John Oliver, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Triumph The Insult Comic Dog And Many More To Be Announced

“Night Of Too Many Stars” To Tape At The Beacon Theatre in New York City On Saturday, October 2

With Tickets On Sale Monday, August 2 At or

VIP Benefit Tickets Which Include The After-Party With Talent Can Be Purchased By Emailing or 212-245-6570 x30

“Night Of Too Many Stars” To Air On COMEDY CENTRAL On Thursday, October 21 At 9:00 PM ET/PT With Live Wrap-Arounds From Jon Stewart And Other Comedic All-Stars

NEW YORK, July 27, 2010 -- COMEDY CENTRAL has once again joined forces with Jon Stewart's Busboy Productions for its third bi-annual special event, "Night Of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert For Autism Education."  Taping on Saturday, October 2 from the Beacon Theatre in New York City, the benefit for Autism education programs will feature Stewart hosting an evening filled with live performances, sketches and short films from a roster of comedy all-stars.

All VIP Benefit tickets, which begin at $1,250 per person, include access to the after-party with talent.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conan O'Brien: "I think they cured me of my addiction to The Tonight Show"

Conan fans should be sure to check out this lengthy article from, "I Was With Coco," written by former "Late Night"/"Tonight" writer Todd Levin.

Levin was a relatively recent recruit, joining the "Late Night" staff only a month before O'Brien wrapped up his 12:30 AM show. Anyone interested in learning what it's like to be a comedy writer will find the piece fascinating: Levin describes his "all-consuming fear of failing" at his new job, where writers had to produce under enormous pressure:

"An idea might be conceived at 9:30 a.m., pitched in the head writer's office at 10 a.m., debated and tweaked by the other writers, then approved for that day's show at 10:30 a.m. Between that time and a 1:30 p.m. rehearsal, the idea had to be cast, scored, shot, and edited. Graphics, props, video clips, and sound effects had to be requested, if needed. And, oh yes—there's the small matter of writing the script... To work in that kind of environment without ever falling behind or questioning your self-worth, you would have to be a sociopath."

During the highly publicized drama with NBC, O'Brien went from being a jovial, confident, hands-on boss -- the host was "constantly shooting video pieces on location, and he still found time to make an appearance at our writers' meetings almost every day, often to entertain us" -- to looking "drained... [he] slumped into the guest couch and fixed his gaze on the far wall as he addressed us, never really making eye contact. It was a sight that shook your faith a little, like seeing your dad on crutches."

Levin reveals that before making his decision, O'Brien polled his writers, "asking each of us what we'd do: take the 12:05 a.m. time slot the network was offering or get out. Nearly unanimously, we favored cutting and running. Everyone thought it was a terrible offer and that we were being set up to fail. Before he got up to leave, Conan confessed, 'I think they cured me of my addiction to "The Tonight Show."'"

The piece still ends on a relatively positive note, as Levin gets caught up in a rally held by O'Brien's fans.

Levin doesn't mention whether or not he'll be joining Conan at TBS this fall, but he does have a humor book coming out next month -- Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk -- which features a cover blurb from his ex-boss: "Possibly the most irresponsible book written on the subject of sexuality since The Berenstain Bears Host a Key Party."

Monday, July 19, 2010

David Letterman cuts back to 4 shows a week

Viewers who tuned into the "Late Show" on Friday saw a year-old broadcast featuring Johnny Depp and Megan Fox. It's part of a new summer schedule, according to the show's Wahoo Gazette: Friday repeats.

"We're trying something new this summer. Four new shows a week, with Friday being a previously viewed Late Show. We're seeing how it works out. Please write to the producers to let them know how much you think it's a great idea!" writes production coordinator Michael Z. McIntee, obviously angling for a little summer R&R.

The "Late Show" crew usually tapes Friday's show on Monday evening, so having the day off isn't a new thing, but it will definitely lighten the overall workload.

This Friday's rerun is scheduled to be a July 15, 2009 episode featuring Paul McCartney, as well as a Top Ten List presented by Bruce Willis.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Conan O'Brien in San Francisco: Three hours, two bottles of wine, lots of laughs

One of the great pleasures of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is Sketchfest, an outstanding comedy festival held every January. Sketchfest lures the biggest names in comedy to San Francisco, and seven months ago, they had a particularly juicy event on the schedule -- Conan O'Brien was slated to come to town to receive a special award and appear in conversation with comedian Jimmy Pardo at the Herbst Theater. The day of the tribute? Jan. 17. Which turned out to be a mere 10 days after NBC declared it was moving Jay Leno back to 11:35 PM.

We all know what happened next, which is why it wasn't a huge surprise that the Sketchfest gig was canceled. Then Conan went on his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour, and I don't think anyone expected the tribute to be rescheduled. And yet an email appeared in my inbox one week ago saying that the show was on again, with one of the funniest people alive, Patton Oswalt, joining Conan and sidekick Andy Richter onstage. Short notice, but what the heck -- I canceled my plans and bought tickets... again.

Anyone who's been missing Conan O'Brien got a megadose of the former "Tonight" host, as he held court at the Herbst for over three hours. What's more, he and Oswalt consumed two bottles of red wine as they chatted -- Richter joined them about an hour into the conversation -- making for a candid, loose and, above all, funny evening.

Oswalt came out onstage and declared that he'd tried his best to get O'Brien and Richter drunk during dinner at local tapas restaurant Andalu ("@conanobrien and @andy_richter are seriously hammered," he tweeted). Conan got a standing ovation from the capacity crowd, and immediately apologized for missing the January date, explaining that "the shit hit the fan." "I've never canceled anything," he said.

Despite his prodigious alcohol consumption, anyone expecting Conan to trash-talk Leno or NBC -- or, for that matter, give anything away about his upcoming TBS show -- would have been disappointed. O'Brien spoke about the changes he's seen during his years in the biz, stating that "the people behind the curtain are scared shitless right now. You can fear change or you can choose to embrace it and get excited by it," he said. "I choose to embrace and get excited by it."

Perhaps explaining why he went to basic cable instead of pursuing a deal at Fox, Conan said that what matters in the business now isn't who's got the most people watching them, but "who is watching you and your relationship with those people. Something is happening in the way people communicate... we're going through a seismic change."

O'Brien made frequent reference to the young crowd at the event -- the 47-year-old isn't exactly Gramps O'Brien, but the world he described when he talked about the old, three-network universe does seem like an eternity ago. The fledgling writer, just out of Harvard, "made a pledge that I wasn't going to work on a show I didn't believe in," which left him with two choices: "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night with David Letterman." (He mentioned the sitcom "Benson" as an example of what he did not aspire to.) "Today, there are 175 channels -- you can get a pure hit of exactly what you want."

Of course, he wound up at "SNL" after a couple writing gigs in L.A., and his association with Lorne Michaels led to his being hired to succeed Letterman when he left for CBS.

O'Brien talked about his early days at NBC, back in the days when the network was so nervous about the unknown redhead that "they canceled me at one point and decided [to un-cancel 'Late Night' because] they didn't have a replacement. They put me on 13-week contracts. They wanted to put me on week-to-week contracts, and we argued them to 13 weeks."

That meant O'Brien and his team had nothing to lose, so he was able to experiment -- "I just wanted to do weird, funny things and see if it worked." An audience question led O'Brien to reminisce about some of the show's least popular characters, like Quacky the Scientologist duck and Randy the Pyloric Sphincter.

All in all, Conan came across as such a decent guy -- he answered audience members thoughtfully and sincerely, even as he played around with them a bit (one guy had to show Conan his driver's license because O'Brien didn't believe that his first name was really Lazar) -- that I hesitate to imply that he took any potshots at  Leno, but there were a couple exchanges that could be interpreted that way. Talking about his admiration for comedian Jack Benny, O'Brien said he had been influenced by the fact that while Benny was "the funniest guy of his generation, everybody who knew him says he was a great guy, a great husband, a great father. Your comedy and your morality are all interconnected." Conan said it was important to him that he too be thought of as a great husband & dad, not just a comedian. Hmm... now which late night host is a famous workaholic with no kids?

"The most overrated thing in broadcasting is longevity," said O'Brien. "I've told my wife this -- I don't have to last forever." That unintentional witticism led to much laughter from the audience; we were almost as loopy as the performers by this point. "There's this mania to stay relevant forever, and I reject that. I'm OK with not being number one."

Conan called on young people who aspire to careers in comedy to get their stuff on YouTube, and the cream will rise to the top. He also said not to be too sensitive to criticism -- "If you think you have something to say, you're going to get criticized. I can get my feelings hurt by a valet parker who says the wrong thing." The answer is "not to become less sensitive... the trick is to keep going anyway."

As the clock went past 11 PM, I suspect Conan could have kept going for another hour, even though he was getting a bit hoarse. But after taking a few last questions, sitting on the edge of the stage to be closer to the fans lined up to talk to him, it was finally time to go. Besides, the wine bottles were empty (Patton shook them upside-down just to be sure).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Insult to Injury Dept.: Letterman's Extortionist Gets Emmy Nod

David Letterman didn't get an Emmy nomination this year -- "Late Show" was edged out by "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" -- but the New York Times' Media Decoder blog points out that Robert J. "Joe" Halderman, currently serving time for blackmailing the CBS host, did receive a nod. "Along with six of his former colleagues at CBS News, Mr. Halderman is up for an Emmy in the category called 'outstanding continuing coverage of a news story in a news magazine," writes the Times' Brian Stelter. "He was a producer on a '48 Hours Mystery' episode titled 'American Girl, Italian Nightmare.'"

"For more than two years, a team of journalists worked very hard on this important hour," said a "48 Hours" spokesperson. "The producers of 48 Hours felt that not to nominate their work would unfairly deprive the many other dedicated journalists involved of recognition they had earned."

Halderman could be released as early as September, but since the Emmy ceremony takes place in August, there's not much chance he'll be able to attend. At least he wouldn't have to worry about running into Dave.

"Halderman earned eight Emmys during his career at CBS," according to the Times. Dave's won 12, so he's still in the lead.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The perfect late night host: Build your own!

Last week, the Chicago Tribune's Steve Johnson wrote a column about the perfect late night talk show host. Of course, he or she doesn't exist: Johnson took a little Ferguson, a bit of Letterman, a touch of Fallon. Here are some of his suggestions:

Craig Ferguson's monologue ("the single most exciting thing in late-night TV right now")
David Letterman's interviewing ("He genuinely listens to what his celebrity visitors say and reacts honestly")
Stephen Colbert's performance skills ("the character not only still earns the welcome mat, but has grown richer")
Jimmy Fallon's subject matter ("give him credit for bringing to late night a genuine engagement with Internet culture")
Conan O'Brien's writer's sensibility ("what O'Brien and his writing team did with 'Tonight' was fresh and format-challenging")
Jon Stewart's search for meaning ("He pushes the program to actually be about something")
Jay Leno's ratings ("when you are constructing a perfect talk-show host, the ability to please many of the people much of the time is nothing to be underrated")

I think Johnson could have added Jimmy Kimmel's sharp and funny viral videos, or, heck, let's go back a ways and bring in Johnny Carson's amazing ability to turn around a joke that bombed. I don't watch enough "Chelsea Lately" or "Lopez Tonight" to gauge where they might fit in. But on the whole, I like the list. Do you have another attribute to add?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Not-so-late-night Ratings: Slow start for "Kilborn File"

The furious "Simpsons" watchers who would rather see reruns with Homer, Bart and the gang than fresh episodes of "The Kilborn File" may get their wish. According to Broadcasting & Cable, ratings for Craig Kilborn's comeback vehicle lag behind the numbers Fox stations were getting with the cartoon family.

"At the end of its first week of test broadcasts, Twentieth's 'The Kilborn File' averaged a 0.8 rating/2 share in the weighted metered markets, according to Nielsen Media Research, down 56% from its lead-in and from year-ago time period averages, which were each a 1.8/4," wrote B&C's Paige Albiniak, admitting that "Fox picked a challenging time to debut the show, considering that it was the week before a long holiday weekend in the heat of summer, when levels of households using television are at annual lows."

The biggest drop in ratings was actually suffered by Boston's WFXT, where numbers are down 75% from last summer, when the station was airing "Seinfeld" repeats. Craig only managed to muster a 0.4 rating in Beantown. The show did slightly better in Austin and Phoenix, where the program is airing at 10 PM and 10:30 PM, respectively. The other five stations airing "The Kilborn File" have it on in the early evening, "a first for comedy talk."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jay Leno: "Dave and I will be watching the Emmys at Oprah's house"

David Letterman is on vacation this week, but Jay Leno wasted no time in poking fun at his own lack of Emmy nominations. Both he and his competitor were snubbed, while Conan O'Brien scored a nod for his final show as "Tonight" host.

"The good news - 'Tonight Show' got 4 nominations. The bad news - I didn’t get one of them," Leno said, according to New York magazine's web site. "And David Letterman didn’t get nominated either. Oh man. I guess Dave and I will be watching the Emmy's at Oprah’s house this year." (A reference to their famous Super Bowl ad.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Emmy Nominations: Conan in, Letterman out

"Late Show with David Letterman" failed to garner an Emmy nomination for the first time since it debuted in 1994. Instead, "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" picked up a nod, as Emmy voters couldn't resist sticking it to NBC. (Need I mention that "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" was not nominated?)

"The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Real Time with Bill Maher" and "Saturday Night Live" joined Coco in the Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Series category. The Los Angeles Times' Tom O'Neil points out that Maher is "the new Susan Lucci, ranking as the biggest loser in the history of TV's top award, with 22 defeats and no wins for producing, writing and performance."

Maher was also nominated in the Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Special category for his HBO special "...But I'm Not Wrong."

The same five shows were also recognized in the Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music Or Comedy Series category: one of Stephen Colbert's Iraq episodes will compete with the smash hit Betty White-hosted edition of "Saturday Night Live." Also in the running: "The Daily Show"'s Glenn Beck parody, a "Real Time" episode featuring guests Rachel Maddow, Niall Ferguson, Joe Queenan and Michael Ware, and Conan's swan song with Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell and Neil Young.

Other categories in which talk shows were recognized:

Outstanding Art Direction For Variety, Music Or Nonfiction Programming:
"The 82nd Annual Academy Awards," "American Idol: Idol Gives Back," "Saturday Night Live with  hosts James Franco, Jon Hamm and Betty White," "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien," "The 63rd Annual Tony Awards," "The Who Super Bowl Halftime Show"

Outstanding Directing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Series:
"The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Saturday Night Live,""Late Show with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien"

Outstanding Short-Form Picture Editing:
"The 82nd Annual Academy Awards: John Hughes Tribute," "Horror Tribute"; "American Idol: Dream";  "Jimmy Kimmel Live: The Handsome Men's Club," "The Late Night Wars"; "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon: 6-Bee"

"The Daily Show" controversy: Boys' club?

I've held off on posting anything about the flap surrounding "The Daily Show," brought on by a post that ran last month on the popular blog Jezebel. As a major "TDS" fan, I tend not to want to see the show (which was created by two women, Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg) dissed in the media. However, in the last couple of days, the "woman problem" at "TDS" has been endlessly discussed and dissected. Here's a handy recap in case you had too many cocktails on the 4th and are just now coming back online.

Late night watchers with long memories, like me, may recall a similar controversy involving "TDS" that brewed several years ago. Return with me, friends, to mid-2006, when the blog Racialicious posted, "Is 'The Daily Show' racist?" "[W]hen’s the last time you saw a non-white person on 'The Daily Show?' Apart from the occasional black actor or comedian, I rarely see any people of color on the show. Are there really no Asian-American, Latino, African-American, or Native American progressives worth interviewing? I think that if the show weren’t so lily-white, I wouldn’t be so conscious of the way Stewart puts on a Mexican accent when discussing immigration."

"I did notice awhile back that 'The Daily Show' is one of the whitest shows around," agreed a commenter. "If it were a country club, it would probably be criticized."

"I have always felts that it is a really White show, and that is one of the primary things that turns me off about the show," said another commenter. "I like the show overall, but that aspect doesn’t sit well with me."

The New York Times reported on "TDS"' 2005 Emmy win, when "the horde of white, male writers of 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart' gathered onstage in black tie to accept their award, almost [looking] like a mock tableau of the past -- the Whiffenpoofs, circa 1961. Mr. Stewart joked about it, bragging that his staff members were only '80 percent Ivy League-educated Jews.'"

So what happened? The minority staff members of "TDS" did not post an open letter on the internet to let people know that Stewart wasn't a racist, though wouldn't that have been funny? Imagine this: "'The Daily Show' isn't a place where [black and brown people] quietly suffer on the sidelines as barely tolerated tokens. On the contrary: just like the [whites] here, we're indispensable. We generate a significant portion of the show's creative content and the fact is, it wouldn't be the show that you love without us."

No, "TDS" hired some actual minorities: "Senior Black Correspondent" Larry Wilmore first appeared in 2006, Aasif Mandvi was hired in 2007, and Wyatt Cenac came aboard in 2008. I don't think anybody can say with a straight face that these were affirmative action hires -- they are all very talented people, and that their presence has enhanced the show considerably. There also seemed to be an effort to more regularly feature minority guests, such as astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson, author Reza Aslan and pundit Fareed Zakaria.

Ever since, no one has said a peep about the supposed "racism" of "The Daily Show." And I suspect that if Olivia Munn and Samantha Bee are eventually joined by another prominent female correspondent, this controversy will be forgotten in a few years as well.

Late Night Ratings: Winners & losers

The New York Times' Bill Carter has an article coming out in tomorrow's print edition about the declining ratings for network late night talk shows, and, indeed, the possible decline and fall of the genre itself.

"[Jay] Leno saw his ratings for the second quarter shrink sharply from the same period two years ago and his margin over his longtime competitor, David Letterman on CBS, reduced to its smallest level since 1995," writes Carter. "But Mr. Letterman’s numbers have declined as well. The only network talk show in the 11:30 hour to add viewers was 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on ABC, which gained about 150,000 over last year."
Industry observers blame several factors, including the popularity of DVRs; indeed, CBS’s chief research officer, David F. Poltrack, called the machines "the biggest competitor in the time period."

An anonymous late night executive told Carter that "the situation is bad, and it is going to get worse over the long haul... People do not tape these shows, and you also have a firm sense that if something great does happen on one of these shows, you’ll see it anyway online the next day."

(While I haven't "taped" anything in well over five years, I do record and time-shift late night talk shows. But it's true that many viewers are satisfied to see the best clips online the next day. It's also no doubt true that Kimmel's endless stream of viral YouTube clips contributed to his audience growth, as it tends to be a show that people enjoy once they've had a chance to sample it.)

However, the news isn't all bleak, indicating that the future of late night talk is likely moving to cable. “The Daily Show” and "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central both added viewers in the 18-to-49 age group, and the viewership of E!’s Chelsea Handler also grew. Of course, all eyes will be on TBS when Conan O'Brien joins the late night fold later this year.

The lone bit of good news for the traditional networks: on ABC, "Nightline" grew to its best viewer-total in six years in the second quarter of 2010.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Reruns: Where are the new shows?

Every time a talk show goes into reruns, I start getting a bunch of hits from Google searches along the lines of, "why is [show] in repeats." The answer, of course: it's the summer, and who doesn't want to enjoy some time off? Plus, viewership levels are lower than they are during the fall, winter and spring, which is why some programs, like "Last Call with Carson Daly" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," just take the whole summer off.

Still, unlike, say, the week between Christmas and New Year's, at least the talkers aren't all taking off at the same time! Here's where you can see new content, and when:

David Letterman: Off this week, but back with new shows on July 12. Best bet: "Inception" actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and avant-garde musical icon Laurie Anderson on Wednesday the 14th.

Jay Leno: Tonight's show will be a rerun, but the workaholic Leno will be back tomorrow with actor Jason Segel, "Jersey Shore"'s Jenni "JWoww" Farley and crooner Enrique Iglesias.

Jimmy Kimmel: Two weeks of reruns; Kimmel will return on the 19th. Best bet: former "Man Show" co-host Adam Carolla on the 21st.

Craig Ferguson: Like Letterman, he'll be back on the 12th.

 Jimmy Fallon: Also back on the 12th.

"The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report": New shows this week -- don't miss former "Even Stev/phen" cohort Steve Carell on "Colbert" this Wednesday! -- but both programs will be dark from July 12-23, returning on the 26th. Let's hope no funny sex scandals happen during the break.

"Lopez Tonight" is off this week.

"Chelsea Lately" will feature new shows tonight, Tuesday and Thursday, and will air repeats all next week.