Jun 7, 2009

Defending The Red-Haired Man

Have you heard that there's a new host of The Tonight Show on NBC? Like our current president, he served as a head of a prestigious Harvard University group (he was the president of the Harvard Lampoon, one of only three to serve in the role twice). He's a former comedy writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons and a two-time Emmy winner and three-time host. He's freakishly tall like his favorite president, kind of looks like the current president of Finland, and made a grown man say "Buddy Boy" and "Jub-Jub" during the World Series.

Did I mention he hosted his own late-night talk show for 15 and a half years?

Conan O'Brien has only been host of The Tonight Show for a week, but he's doing pretty well in the slot. The fans of Late Night With Conan O'Brien loved the revamped Tonight Show, but many of the show's critics are complaining that his show is nothing more than Late Night with a bigger shinier set and that he's unworthy to sit in the seat formerly occupied by Jay Leno.

I'm sorry. Unworthy? I think that Mr. O'Brien is more than worthy of hosting NBC's marquee late-night franchise. He has over 20 years of industry experience prior to moving to his current slot. Yeah, he wasn't a stand-up comic, but then again, neither was the guy who preceded Leno.

What? I'm not saying anything that isn't true. Johnny Carson was a comedy writer and sketch comedy performer before he honed his hosting skills on various game shows before ascending to the role of a lifetime. I think a lot of these critics of Mr. O'Brien have selective memory because they largely forgotten what kind of show The Tonight Show was before Jay Leno, which had a lot of sketch comedy segments and memorable characters like Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo American, and Art Fern.

And I just realized I've aged myself and alienated readers under the age of 24.

But yeah, Jay Leno's Tonight Show was a much more political show than his predecessor's show and relied on less sketches and more on man-on-the-street segments. That's not to say it's was a bad show because, let's face it, it wasn't. However, if The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien was going to be the same show as The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, and if a lot of people expected that it would be, well, disappointment is going to be an emotion a lot of Leno fans are going to be experiencing for a good while now.

The thing is, well, people aren't going to like Conan's brand of humor. And here's another observation. People didn't like Leno's brand of humor either. A comparative statement is water is wet. The reason Conan took over Late Night 15 and a half years ago wasn't because he was just like David Letterman, because he's not. The reason Conan took over The Tonight Show wasn't because he was just like Jay Leno (and, for the record, Jay Leno didn't have to leave The Tonight Show; he chose to; Conan could have been gone and about $40 million richer and on a new outlet). They liked him because he's himself, not a carbon copy of Carson or Leno.

Otherwise, what would be the point?

Conan's not from "retro Hollywood." You know, that so-called glamorous period that existed on television between the end of the Eisenhower presidency and the beginning of the Reagan presidency. An era between the premiere of I Love Lucy and the Who Shot J.R. episode of Dallas. Television was still a virgin period and largely untested. Jay Leno represents the last link to the "retro Hollywood" era of television, and I think that's why a lot of people are so hellbent on criticizing every nuance of what Conan's doing on his . I know Conan respects the past, but he also realizes his viewers are younger and expect a lot more from him.

I'm not saying everybody has to like Conan. People had ill feelings towards the guy for many other reasons, but give him a chance on The Tonight Show. He's pretty good at it.

1 comment:

E.A. said...

Want to know my true feelings?

I believe O'Brien will work. Personally, I don't believe you need to have a stand-up background in order to be successful in late-night. I just think that you need to know how to get ratings, and be consistent with that.