Saturday, January 23, 2010

News flash: baby boomers don't prefer Leno. We're not THAT old

I read an article in Saturday’s LA Times by Neal Gabler that analyzed the whole Leno-Conan debacle. His basic point was that NBC made their decisions based on demographics. Conan was young and hip and drew the more desirable audience and Leno was old and stodgy and was the darling of the elder set. He ends by saying:

As O’Brien faded into the evening last night with bundles of cash and newfound martyrdom, the baby boomers have finally gotten some small measure of revenge, however old and dorky and undesirable they may be.

Gee thanks, Neal. Not many people are willing to come out and champion us old, washed up, bland, relics. You forgot to mention that we’re also too dumb to program DVRS.

If I may speak for a moment for the glue factory generation, there are many baby boomers – despite our now limited hearing and eyesight – that prefer Conan O’Brien over Jay Leno. It’s not so much a matter of hipness; it’s that we find O’Brien funnier and more original. Y’know, before we were museum pieces we boomers were the first “counter culture”. We fucking invented it. We created SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and it was groundbreaking then, not the 30th generation faint carbon copy it is today. What are today’s rock acts doing that is that much different from what we grey beards established in the 60s?

Yes, Jay Leno beat David Letterman in the ratings. And NBC was stupid for ever wanting to replace him. But how much of Jay’s success was as a result of (a) the generation that proceeds us, and (b) enough people of any age just don’t like Dave?

Leno’s return to THE TONIGHT SHOW was not a victory for baby boomers. It was a concession to conservatism and mediocrity. We baby boomers like Conan O’Brien, 30 ROCK, THE HANGOVER, Beyonce, THE DAILY SHOW, sushi, and even those computer things the kids today are all raving about.

88 comments:

Richard Cooper said...

Beyonce? You are so 2009, old hippie.

Susan D-L said...

I'd bet my bifocals most of Jay's audience is Generation X (them's the kids that came after us boomers, right? My senior brain can't remember details.)

My favorite late-nighter remains Ferguson. I liked Leno in his guest-hosting days but that was a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

"Faint carbon?"
Oops, another slip.

itstartedwithawindmill said...

Couldn't Leno have gone to Fox? He'd fit in awfully well over there.

Ian said...

I heard NBC will be airing Tonight show reruns until the start of the Winter Olympics. I guess that's one way of building an audience... for David Letterman.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

"Faint carbon?"
Oops, another slip.


"Faint carbon copy" sounds about right.

Paul said...

The reason Conan did poorly is because young people DIDN'T watch his Tonight Show. I stopped watching a week into it as I realized he was watering everything down and removing even the most mildly daring material. Even his "best of" clips this week were bland.

My dad is 62 and likes Craig Ferguson best. It's less "young people vs. old" than "boring people vs. people who demand something unique".

Breck Girl said...

Sorry, Susan, but I think you should hold on to your bifocals. Most Gen-Xers I know prefer Letterman to Leno. I do. Glad to see you old folks can appreciate the genius that is Ferguson. He's a late night treat.

Jake said...

It's not v. old. It's coasters v. everybody in between.

Personally, I'm a Letterman/Ferguson guy, but Conan O'Brien has his moments. As for Leno, love him as a car guy, admire him for his ability as a stand up (his act is NOT what it is on the tonight show), and loathe him for his actions during the strike. And his manipulating behavior in getting the Tonight Show both times says everything else.

Jeff said...

Damn straight about the boomers. Before we created SNL, we created the even more subversive National Lampoon magazine and radio show.

Yeah, us boomers like our humor safe and watered down, Neal. Let's see.
Firesign Theater. Richard Pryor. Cheech and Chong.

Even those of us who grew up watching Carson with Dad.

john brown said...

Boomers recognize funny when we hear it.

We can also recognize phony when we see it.

Letterman and Conan, in that order, funny.

Leno and Zucker and Ebersol, in any order, phony.

cherry2000 said...

The Baby Boomers destroyed America. They had the greatest economy ever to blossom in--THAT IS WHY there was a cultural explosion in Art, Theatre, Music, Television. Biggest douchebag generations ever. What have they left the next generation? A steaming pile of dung.

RAB said...

One important datum is that, if I'm not mistaken, Ken and Neal Gabler were actually born in the same year. So there's a bit of knowing self-mockery on both sides. As it happens, I was born around twelve years later than that and I'm already feeling the winter chill in my joints and the steady loss of my mental acuity, so I can only imagine what these poor guys have to put up with.

Also, my mom was born in 1935 and she prefers Colbert over all the rest. But I think her favorite comedian was some old duffer named George Carlin or something like that, so there's clearly no accounting for old folks' tastes.

gottacook said...

cherry2000: "Ooh. Pretty!!"

Geoff said...

Oh no, somebody just offended a member of the most self-obsessed generation ever!

(I'm in a bad mood tonight.)

amyp3 said...

It's coasters v. everybody in between.

I'm a baby boomer from the Great Lakes. This must really be all my fault.

Ken, I've been ranting about your topic for a week. Although from my POV Conan's Tonight Show wasn't that good. But that hardly puts me on Team Jay. (Is there even a Team Jay? Mavis, I guess. Maybe Jeff Zucker. Kevin Eubanks? Nah.)

I've read some really horrible comments elsewhere about "the Olds."

Although I'm not sure those posters have a clear of idea of who an Old is.

Over 40? No wait, Conan's over 40.

50? No wait, Tom Hanks is over 50.

60? No wait, Neil Young is over 60.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

The first thing my girlfriend made me when I moved to Hippieville, Oregon, last year was a tie-died T-shirt. I wear it when I watch The Daily Show - my only source of TV news now. I'm 61...waaaay older than Ken. :)

-bee said...

IMHO Leno stays because he has proven himself far more compliant than Conan in framing the issues of the day in ways that corporate giants GE/Comcast find beneficial to their profits.

As I said in a previous comment, I think it's telling that NBC was so consistent in wanting Leno's monologue to proceed Conan's (first by putting Jay in prime time for FIVE NIGHTS a week, then suggesting Jay do a 1/2 hour monologue-only show before The Tonight Show.)

IMHO, TV is more and more seen by it's owners not so much as a means of generating profits via advertising and more as a means of keeping the public's mind off certain types of issues.

I'm curious though - I'm pretty sure I've heard that even now Leno hires himself out to MC conventions - does Conan (or for that matter) Letterman do that?

Buttermilk Sky said...

As I understand it, the kids don't know what "carbon paper" is. We used to use it in "typewriters" to...oh,never mind. BTW, boomers are still angry about the cancellation of Dick Cavett.

VW: uncons. Neocons who don't vote.

brickben said...

"Never follow a hippie to a second location"...Jack Donaghy.

Chuck Sigars said...

I guess someone here has to point out that Conan, in fact, is a baby boomer. Big tent and all that.

V. Salt said...

Everyone older or younger than I am is inferior to me.

VP81955 said...

I frankly prefer Letterman and Ferguson to either Leno (too mainstream) or O'Brien (too smug).

wv: "cingle" -- not sure how you get one, but I bet it's fun.

Susan said...

Cherry2000 said "The Baby Boomers destroyed America..."
Honey, that's what the Baby Boomers said about THEIR parents!
The more things change...

den parser said...

Oh yeah, that's cool.

k said...

"…Conan, in fact, is a baby boomer…"

Born in 1963, he's early Gen-X or Generation Jones. He just seems like a boomer because he's a self-centered, self-obsessed, selfish, narcissist.

"…we boomers were the first 'counter culture'"

That's funny, on like 3 levels.

Anonymous said...

For me anyway (tail end of the baby boom) Leno was always middle of the road. The "Disneyfied" version of a comedian.
If he were a Beatle, he'd be Paul Mc Cartney, not bad..just "safe" and always with an eye on "what the public wants" and not to offend anyone.
In the early days Letterman was pretty cool, but later became safe too and predictable as well as a little more curmudgeon-like.

Anonymous said...

I'm 42, and the Gen X-ers I know aren't into Leno. He's not exciting, not a good interviewer and he steals bits from other comedians.. Jaywalking and Headlines to name two (from Letterman and Howard Stern). I grew up liking Letterman the best for sheer laughs. In it's prime it was right up there with Carson. (although nobody outclassed Carson). Now I watch Conan the most now of all of them, because he and staff are inventive and original. When he goes to another network I hope he brings back some of the zany bits he stopped doing when he went to the Tonight Show. The talking-mouths bit was funny. He should've kept it.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

When he goes to another network I hope he brings back some of the zany bits he stopped doing when he went to the Tonight Show.

NBC owns all those. Conan has to start anew.

Get Real said...

"we boomers were the first “counter culture”. We fucking invented it."

You're not serious, right?

D. McEwan said...

"Geoff said...
Oh no, somebody just offended a member of the most self-obsessed generation ever!


Someone offended the current illiterate crop of attention-span-deprived twentysomethings? Who?

Buttermilk Sky said...
BTW, boomers are still angry about the cancellation of Dick Cavett.


No we're not. We weren't even upset about it when it happened. I worked with Cavett once. He's a pretentious tool.

"Get Real said...
'we boomers were the first “counter culture”. We fucking invented it.'

You're not serious, right?"


Very serious. And if you don't know that it's true, you don't know much.

This Boomer is a Letterman viewer. I like Conan okay, but never enough to make a habit of him, and certainly never enough to watch him instead of Letterman, or even when Dave is a repeat. (Those are my watch-a-DVD evenings.)

I love Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert, but theirs is a different type show, and go on the DVR each evening for my wake-up viewing.

Jay, who is all of a month older than I am, is still playing to his parents' generation. His material is obvious, bland, and superficial, based not on a fresh take on events, but on the perceived views of a mass of dumb people.

Frankly, I never really enjoyed Carson much either. He had great timing, but he was playing to our parents also. How could someoen love John Belushi and also Johnny Carson? I went for Belushi, and for the original National Lampoon, and the humor of Michael O'Donahue and Douglas Kenney. Carson was old man humor even in his prime. I respected his skills, but I never enjoyed his show.

Letterman is much closer to Steve Allan in his heyday, before he calcified.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

Here, Here!

Bob B. said...

The funniest person on the Letterman show is Paul Shaffer.

Anonymous said...

Boy, it's too bad there isn't any information out there about who actually watches what show. They could call it ratings and they could break it down demographically so we'd know what group watches what program.

On second thought, self-indulgent bitching is the way to go.

Mike

ks said...

This morning on WGN radio, Bill Zehme talked to Dean Richards about Conan vs Jay.

About Conan's closing show Friday night, he said, "Johnny would've been proud of Conan. And trust me, Johnny was never proud of Jay Leno."

Sums it up pretty well.

(We geriatrics call him Johnny, just Johnny. We invented that too.)

Mike Bell said...

In retrospect Carson was way hipper than people seem to give him credit for. The first glimpse most of America had of such talents as Steven Wright, Jerry Seinfeld, and yeah, Jay Leno was on Carson's tonight show. When was the last time Jay gave an up and coming comedian a shot? Letterman and Conan didn't just want to host the Tonight Show. They wanted to BE Johnny Carson.

David O'Hara said...

The current generation should have no trouble fixing what we boomers screwed up. What with their video gaming skills honed to perfection with hours of mind-numbing slaughter and fantasy role playing. Of course they should give us some credit for insisting they work on their video game skills instead of reading, writing or arithmetic and "Stay away from that piano! You've got your karate to do? But, hey, you can even do that on video."

Janice said...

[Jay's] material is obvious, bland, and superficial, based not on a fresh take on events, but on the perceived views of a mass of dumb people.

Couldn't agree more.

mcp said...

When I read about comedians stealing bits, I think of a Benny Hill quote from 1955 (Page 180 of "Funny, Peculiar" by Mark Lewisohn):

"Let's say there's nothing really new, only a new angle to it, that's all. There's only a certain of gags and commic situations to go round. It's up to the comics to make the most of them in their own particular way."

Now, Hill did "Borrow" more than any other comedian on the planet. He took bits from British comics, U.S. comics, joke books, mimes and nightclub entertainers throughout Europe and mashed them together to make his sketches and songs. The thing is most comedy isn't 100% original.

Letterman has acknoledged basing a lot of his show on Steve Allen's work. Carson's "Mighty Carson Arts Players" took ideas from Allen, and Jackie Gleason (Joe Piscapo poked fun at this on SNL). Most slapstick comes from vaudville through and added by Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd (even though he was a Republican. There, I said it so D. McEwan wouldn't have to).

I'm not saying Jay Leno is the most orignial comic out there. But the only truely orignal comic force on TV was Ernie Kovacs and even he got fired by NBC.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Leno's median age on "Tonight" was around 58. Conan's median age on "Tonight" was 47. That would pretty much confirm that Leno = boomer fan base. Conan = more Gen X.
Why did Conan fail? Gen Xers don't watch late night chat shows in large numbers, the way Boomers (who grew up with Johnny and the late night habit) do.

Sessi said...

I think determining audience preference for Jay vs. Conan should look more for regional preference rather than age. I'm betting Jay is more popular in the red states. Some of that is branding: people in the 'hip' coastal blue states wouldn't be caught dead liking someone as retro and milquetoast as Jay, even if Conan is only mildly funny. I think that branding issue has bitten NBC on the ass, because they had positioned Conan as left-wing, daring, and innovative (ehh, not really, imo), and the target audiences (the majority of this country, which is actually quite conservative) bought into their branding strategy and stayed away from Conan. It's just another example of how NBC continuously screwed this up, from the time of Jay vs. Dave until now.

Disclaimer: I'm Team Craig. To continue my point: Craig is not conservative or left-wing. He's Scottish. And everything is just plain funnier in a Scottish accent.

Rob said...

The interesting thing that advertisers, networks, demographic wonks, etc. forget.....

Entertainment isn't necessarily age specific. Where the hell would MASH slot these days, and yet there were tons of preteens and teens watching the show religiously and then eating up the reruns.

I have always been convinced that Leno's fortunes stem from a combination of four things.... NBC's pre-Zucker lineup, the lineup of guests, his primary demographic's age group's lack of desire to find or use the remote, that same demographic's desire to find something to fall asleep to. Leno was always video wallpaper. Bland enough to be mildly amused by occasionally, but not so much that you had to stay up to see what happened next.

I'm a Gen X'er (38) who appreciated what Carson brought to the genre (namely, his ability to make any guest interesting) and who loved the 12:30 Conan and Letterman.

Letterman at his worst is never as boring as Jay, and at his best is brilliant.

I do not understand how anyone can defend Jay or his Tonight Show (beyond the ratings he had).

Consider....

-Jay did little to develop comedic talent on his show. Stand up comics were seldom seen, which is a bit like taking over American Idol and refusing to let anyone sing.

-Jay's comedy was offensive for all the wrong reasons. He seemed to save all his bile for those who were in the most desperate situations or were obviously stupid. The man made his initial ratings by making joke after joke after joke about a vicious double murder (OJ). His comedy is mostly obvious, which can bring laughs, but not of the kind that something you don't see coming a mile away.

-Jay is lazy. Yes, you can argue that all talk show hosts fall into the same pattern of bits, but Jay's bits all came from other sources, including his competition. He did nothing to freshen up the format. Is there anything within any show that Jay has done that has any hint that Jay has added his own personality or spin to it?

-Jay is selfish and incapable of self-deprecation or allowing himself to be upstaged. Consider that his "sidekick" appears mostly to exist solely to say, "hahahahahaha". Letterman and Conan seem to like the people they work with and aren't afraid to let them get laughs or have personalities of their own. Additionally, Letterman and Conan can make fun of themselves. Leno doesn't know how.

-Jay is full of shit. Witness his "serious" statement this week. Jay claims he's simply a company guy who punches in everyday to work for the boss. He had no idea that Conan would be upset about moving to 12. Gee, really Jay? Is that why you pushed Carson into retirement and whined until you got another gig at NBC?

Anonymous said...

Not all Baby Boomers like Conan, either. Maybe the Conan of 10 years ago when the routines were still fresh, but this baby boomer likes things that keep changing and not repeating the same o same o. The same bits, no matter how great they once were, unless they evolve, are dead. Conan is a series of repetitious bits. Jay is a shadow of his former self - he used to be really funny. Letterman is angry, and though anger is a great source of humor, his borderlines of petulant babyness. On the other hand, Craig Ferguson is still new and funny, and his humor seems to come from him, and what he's about and so far evolves as he does. If he keeps changing, he'll continue to be great. But all the others? If they all got cancelled tomorrow, the world would not be any worse.

A. Buck Short said...

What do you young people want, anyway!

“We want to be free…to ride our machines…without being hassled... by THE MAN.”
------ Peter Fonda’s eulogy for Bruce Dern at motorcycle gang funeral in Roger Corman’s “Wild in the Streets” (1966).

So, which of the late night hosts is the biker? Case closed.

[For you X and Y’s who may have missed this classic, the eulogy’s closing line “We’re gonna have a party” is promptly followed by removal of the Dern character from his Nazi flag-draped coffin, passing the deceased a doobie, shoving the minister into same casket, and drug-saturated rape of the grieving widow. Now THAT’s entertainment.]

Screw yous all! I’m going with generation Z – ‘cause they’re the ones we’re counting on for Windows 8.

Who would have thought this simple post would have generated the most comment, likely in the entire history of the byKenLevine opus. Leno/Conan, Conan/Leno, Leno/Letterman, Ferguson/Ferguson, and not a Kimmel to be found. This all proves only one thing: apparently none of us have lives.

I look forward to Gaebler’s forthcoming unauthorized Jeff Zucker bio: “How a Jew disinvented latenight.”

Mom always cautioned, if you can’t say something nice about anybody…. So, to me, the difference between Leno and O’Brien monologues is that Leno can come up with a few winners, but you have to wade through a shitload of chum to get there. O’Brien usually has even fewer winners, but, on the plus side, you have to wade slightly less crap to find it. Unfortunately, factoring in the insipidity scale, the winner/loser ratio remains pretty much of a toss-up.

There is obviously a method to the madness. You must remember that the main function of these shows is to help people FALL asleep. And what a great job they do.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Bob B. said...
The funniest person on the Letterman show is Paul Shaffer.


Ouch. Molly Ivins used to say that the meanest sentence she ever read was "Sy Newhouse has lost his moral compass since Roy Cohn died." (I knew nothing about Sy Newhouse, but the gist is gettable).

I think you may have just won the award for the meanest thing said in Late Night Wars II (I'm a huge Letterman fan, but Schaffer's attempts at humor tend to grate on my nerves, though he does get it a good one-liner from time to time).

Mister Charlie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mister Charlie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rodney said...

Leno may be a biker but he doesn't fit in the mold of Easy Rider or any of the great biker movies. He's a corporate shill and quite the weasel. To say nothing of being offensively bland-it's like when Al Bundy calls up the cable company and says "Hello. I've been watching some of your channels and there's some I want to report as offensive." Then there's a brief pause until he continues. "Lifetime." Which hits it right on the money and why Al Bundy would probably have the same feelings towards Jay Leno-so would the entire family except maybe Kelly. But in real life I doubt Christina Applegate could stand Jay Leno.

It should be pointed out that as good as some of the Saturday Night Live material has been over the years, the really top notch stuff came from the original run of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Like Conan and no doubt his staff, most of the troupe's members had pretty impressive college education credentials-I think intelligence-and the desire to be intelligent-is an important factor in writing material for an audience-if you want your audience to stick around and see what you come up with next or how your next movies direction is. I don't see how Jay Leno has anything to offer an audience they can't see on Oprah or any of the other lameass shows all over the tube.

The last thing you should do when you have truly original talent like Conan is let them walk. The return of Leno is likely to be the worst decision ever made by Zucker and company, which is really saying something. Guys like Leno are so easily replaced-if he was a radio DJ he'd easily be beaten by the newer, sharper kids on the block (as Howard Stern used to do routinely to DJ's who were riding on their coat tails in AM drive)-Leno simply has nothing to offer anybody who values their time and doesn't want their intelligence insulted.

Jeff Badge said...

Speaking of 30 ROCK ...

Why is Tracy Morgan on this otherwise fantastic show? I'm at the point where I'm fast-forwarding when he's on screen. Do I just not "get it" and there's a desirable audience for his shtick? Perhaps he fit in with the show's original vision but, as the show has morphed, he's a contractual obligation? Maybe he has a dusty VHS tape in a safe, the contents of which Tina Fey and/or Alec Baldwin are determined the public never see?

sheetzk said...

Amen. I'm 57. People are amazed I use a computer sometime let alone do social media marketing as my day job in Hollywood.

Boomers, emersed in the business world, have been a party to technology's growth our whole careers.

I'm Jone-ing for the time when TV and web are one.

I've preferred Conan over Leno for as long as Conan's been on the airwaves. Go figure.

Rodney said...

Of course Leno would lead the Comedy Store strike because HE had a huge stake in it. It helps establish him as a leader and he also gets paid for his appearances-what was it they ended up getting $25 most of them? And featured comics get a take of the door in the main room, which continues today? And now Pauly Shore is having difficulties with his brother who is accusing him of misappropriation of funds or something like that? Anyway that's another matter entirely.

The bottom line is that with Jay Leno it's always been all about Jay Leno-a certain amount of that is to expected in show business or any business-but it's also true about the friends you make on way your way up and down the ladder-Jay doesn't seem to have built up any good will at all and now is when he needs it as his return will be a colossal failure-there's still the problem that NBC has nothing worth watching in the 10 P.M. hour and based on the types of decisions they've made recently about what to put on the air, they won't. So there goes the lead in to the newscasts and the declining revenue of affiliates which is what the ouster of Conan was all about. Plus now there's all of this negative publicity surrounding Jay most of which he's bought upon himself-even the best PR people in the world are going to have a really hard time selling him with this black shadow-and the audience that was there-a lot of them will be gone and won't be back. That's how I see it. NBC is dreaming if they think this was a good move.

Kirk Jusko said...

Harold Lloyd a Republican? I guess I shouldn't be surprised. He was always playing go-getter types making his way through the world of capitalism, but I always hoped he mean it as satire. I always liked him because he wore glasses like me. It's nice to know a nearsighted guy would rise to such heights in screen comedy. I'd be really disillusioned if I ever found out otherwise.

As far as the comedy of the 60s-70s compares to the comedy of the last 20 years. Humor is much more explicit now, but I don't think it's any edgier. Comedy of the '70s made attacked the status quo. Nowadays, it attacks anything outside the status quo. It's anti-anti-establishment.

Pamela Jaye said...

50 year old Bostonian stuck in FL. Never watch talk shows unless there is a guest I like.
Leno boring
Letterman doesn't know a thing about his guests (pre-interview? research)
Arsenio got a bad rap but always paid attention when Scott Bakula spoke. Miss him.
George Lopez one interview, three mentions of his penis. bzzzzt, next!
Fallon, Daly - couldn't tell you.
What happened to that guy Kilborn?
Ferguson, friends like him. became a citizen. calls everything "the show" ex: The Dollhouse show
Conan's martyr status? yup. ratings up. but I can't judge. Sepinwall said that during writers strike he eschewed jokes to spin his ring on his desk. like him to that.
I'm just barely a boomer. Younger brother, an X'er liked Carson. Even though I never saw him do late show, I liked Steve Allen.

Pamela Jaye said...

AmyP if you are still here, take note, the favored demo at TNT (some parts of the week) is 25-54. yay!
I don't have time to clear my DVR, between email, facebook, blogs and the occasional bout of twitter

on the up-side, I finally saw *Murder by Death*

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

When he doesn't care, it's painfully obvious. When he has deserved contempt for the guest, it can be a thing of wondrous beauty (Paris Hilton, that punk from the MTV 90210 reality show). But when he cares and is interested, it's an interesting window into the man. Not just his interviews with climate scientists and hunger experts. He once got sidetracked into a discussion of film with, IIRC, Tilda Swinton. They spent about half a segment, a long time for TeeVee, I believe, talking about some obscure art films she was showing at her festival. She was visibly and pleasantly surprised.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

D'oh. My comment above is in response to Pameal Jaye's
Letterman doesn't know a thing about his guests (pre-interview? research)

Rodney said...

Letterman is bright, bright, bright and always has been. On a membership website featuring old time Top 40 radio disc jockeys (reelradio.com) there is an aircheck of Letterman basically broadcasting to the building he was in (some type of limited transmission) Letterman is doing a DJ thing on a college radio station-he only intros one song but what you do get to hear is a bit of the genius he had even back then before he drove his pickup truck out here and ended up on stage at the Comedy Store-he sets up a phone call for a secret sound which is a contest type of promotion that's been done on radio-he calls a woman (either his wife or girlfriend at the time) who pretends to be sleepy having just waken up who works as a waitress at a local diner-after a few minutes of basically arguing politely back and forth he plays this obscure sound for half a second-no longer-she asks him to repeat it-she has no clue what it is and takes a wild guess-horse dentures falling into a glass-which is the correct answer. Reportedly according to Rolling Stone years ago he would do play by play of a made up professional sports game in which the object of the game was to get the ball out of the stadium and into the opposing team's bus-like any good storyteller, there were people who believed it was real.

He did such a good job with NBC daytime that in one of their better decisions they reportedly paid him a million dollars to do nothing while they developed Late Night in the early 80's. And any one who's watched it can talk about Larry Bud Melman, Brother Theodore, greeting transit riders at the Port Authority Bus Station with warm towels (a Melman bit), smashing objects and dropping objects off buildings (for example-in the case of a young woman who disliked the bureau given to her by her grandmother-"that'll teach Grandma to mind her own business." and so on. Conan picked up on that and after a rocky start built up quite a legacy of his own bits including Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (not technically his, but obviously he went for the idea)-the classic bit of all the costumed characters outside waiting at a Star Wars film premiere "Which one of thse buttons call your parents to come pick you up?" And the one with the baseball game played in old league style or whatever exactly it is-he spots an airplane ("what witchery be that?") and hits on a girl who's completely wrapped up in the role playing repeatedly-that's what talented people do-they push the envelope and they look for new ways to improve on what they've already done and also make what they're doing better at the same time-not really all that easy, but like with anything else, the longer you do it the better you get at it.

Rodney Peterson

Writer, Cutting Confessions-One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest meets Slumdog Millionaire and an untitled ensemble project focusing around a major market Top 40 radio station of the 70's:

www.myspace.com/370392338

Teddy said...

Wouldn't Jack, Allen, and the other Beats be surprised to hear the Boomers take credit for inventing the "counter culture." And I'm quite sure there would be some raised eyebrows in Paris in the 20s if Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Porter, and the other members of the Lost Generation would hear such self-absorbed and hilariously unironic drivel.

Dear Boomers, you had a good thing going and sold out. Even Cheech plays the genial Mexican these days.

Anonymous said...

Conan, self-involved though he was (Co-Co, Conezy, MY hair... MY pasty-white face, 'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien," uttered by none other than... Conan O'Brien, etc. I remember the force-feeding of his persona when he was brand-spanking new to the public, and somehow it never stopped...) was the jazz artist, who knew how to tap into the energy of the moment, the crowd, etc., and wing off it... and looked to take believable delight in it...

Whereas...

Leno is Muzak... Constricted... Unable to break out of his shell... slavish to the jokes, at the expense of tapping into the moment & eliciting something bigger and more organic... unwilling to even wait out audience reaction before plodding onward with the next gag, his literal gag reflex, seemingly addicted to the regimen of it, in search (like an addict) for highs that seem more and more diminished, still surprisingly uncomfortable in his own skin after all these years... and boringly predictable insofar as our knowing his perfunctory grins are as ungenuine and short-lived as any actual chemistry that might occur with those around him.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Dear Boomers, you had a good thing going and sold out. Even Cheech plays the genial Mexican these days.

Yup. Those penny slot machines are winners.

Esmerelda said...

You young whippersnappers think you have all the answers. Gag! I can hardly keep my prune juice down. Conan was about as edgy as my 3-day old Depends.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

You young whippersnappers think you have all the answers. Gag! I can hardly keep my prune juice down. Conan was about as edgy as my 3-day old Depends.

I will tell you again, Esmerelda, it's NAP TIME. Now get back to your room and lie down, or you will not get a fruit cup. ;)

John Rosenfelder said...

Leno - lame at any age. Coincidentally, I saw him do stand up at Dangerfield's on my prom night in 1982! He was good enough to remember, but no genius. Conan never got a real shot.

My only fear is that Obama may have jumped the shark by inviting Leno the correspondents' dinner. That's Coco's slot!

Rick said...

Look, this is all a matter of personal taste.

But believing that the general mood of the readers of this edgy-humored blog corresponds to the taste of the general public is about as valid as the famous Literary Digest subscriber straw poll that indicated that Landon was going to swamp FDR in 1936.
People who had the money to subscribe to magazines in the Depression were not a representative sample of 1936 voters: admirers of Ken Levine's comedy voice are obviously going to prefer O'Brian and Letterman's edgier late night show comedy to Leno's.

The truth is that is was primarily Baby Boomers who lifted Leno to long-time dominance over Letterman--something critics always resented Leno for, btw.
As soon as Jay takes over the Tonight Show again, he's going to have better ratings than Conan did.

Rodney said...

It will be interesting to see how this plays out with affiliates and if Leno does as poorly as I think he will in conjunction with the rest of the NBC lineup will affiliates look to jump ship?

Years ago-before Fox existed as a network-ABC was beating NBC really badly in the ratings battle. Longtime Minneapolis broadcaster Stanley Hubbard owned NBC affiliate KSTP. The decision was made to switch KSTP from NBC to ABC which is what it remains today (to the best of my knowledge.)

The local ABC affiliate was KMSP. The logical thinking was that NBC would jump to KMSP-but KMSP was so poorly run that the NBC network nod went to independent WTCN (now KARE) instead-and KMSP went from ABC to nothing. When Fox became a network, KMSP became the Fox affiliate.

I don't know what the choices are now, though with audiences eroding further and the number of over the air networks pretty much the same. Habits may be changing to the point that people will eschew Leno entirely-I think a lot of them already will because of the negative publicity.

If anybody really has what's needed in place for O'Brien to step up and be a valuable asset with a minimum of changes to infrastructure I think it's ABC-they say goodbye to Nightline and Jimmy Kimmel or push Kimmel back an hour and they're good to go. And at this point the programming on ABC is way better than NBC anyway so O'Brien just might do well there. Then the audience is divided up three ways with Letterman and O'Brien going for the younger, hipper crowd which I would expect O'Brien to dominate in a short time and the default of what's left going to Leno. But if NBC's problems continue in prime time-a virtual certainty under Zucker-the Leno numbers will be disappointing, especially with all the negative image problems he'll be facing the rest of the time he's on the air (probably no later than Fall 2011 before that comes to an abrupt end.)

By going to ABC, ABC and Conan can continue to take advantage of viewer habits and all that's needed for people to watch Conan is flip the channel. Putting Conan on Fox-especially at 11-means trying to establish a whole new set of viewing habits for the audience-especially if Fox O&O's continue their awful one hour nightly newscasts instead of going head to head with ABC, CBS and NBC with some enticing-and expensive-programming during that hour.

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

Someone said, "Leno's audience is Wallmart meets Mark & Brian", while Conan's is Barnes & Noble with the Starbucks, inside."

DodgerGirl said...

Criminy. Can't a person like both of them? Doesn't have to be an either/or, despite what Gabler says.

Rodney said...

Thinking about this further-if Leno fails upon his return as I think he will because of the negative publicity problem and the fact NBC has made some very poor primetime choices in the recent past-you might go with another safe comic/host in the Leno mold-he's not hard to replace at all. You might even replace him with someone a lot of people think is edgy, but really isn't-Dane Cook comes to mind-there's no shortage of qualified people. I could do the job, a lot of people could do the job-especially with the types of resources in terms of writing staff and budget The Tonight Show has.

I guess ultimately it will be up to Comcast to decide and I would think the first thing they would want to do is replace Zucker and his team responsible for a lot of these bad decisions. Maybe with other people within the company who have done well in their respective positions and give them more responsibility. The worst thing Comcast could do is continue to let Zucker make decisions.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on and stop whining. You boomers run everything, spent your youths deriding anyone over the age of 30, and now demand the world’s respect in every single instance. Stop trying to be so hip. No matter what you do, my generation (the REAL young) are not going to think you’re cool. You’re so out of touch with us; it’s truly amazing. And, besides that, you constantly expect us to fix all of the problems that YOU caused as soon as we come of age to vote. I’ll think about assisting in the social security and aging boomer crisis when you people stop whining every time someone points out that some of you aren’t as savvy as you’d like to be with postmodern tech and lingo. Frankly, your desire to be current proves how silly you are, because you dive into any new trend without considering its implications or quality. Top 40 music is generally just an artistic corruption that’s destroying our culture and creating conformity. Most tech updates are alienating and, as in the kindle, extremely dangerous (think about it for more than four minutes and you’ll understand if you’re at all well read; if not, get yourself a book by Richard Mitchell, a rare gem of your times). You don’t get what’s really important. You’re so superficial and you never stop whining. Just shut up, okay? You’re the spoiled brats of the Greatest Generation, and you’re faux victims, taking attention from those who really have problems. Who cares if someone thinks you like Leno? You’d probably think that I like Taylor Swift and ‘Twilight’, when… that’s really lame shit. But, am I blogging about it? No.

David K. M. Klaus said...

Sessi said:

> Craig is not conservative or
> left-wing. He's Scottish.
> And everything is just plain
> funnier in a Scottish accent.

I'd love to see Mr. Ferguson have both Billy Connelly and David Tennant as guests on the same night so they can all try to out-Scot each other.


WV: "weess", as in "Jar-Jar Binks says 'Weessa Scottish.'"

Mister Charlie said...

Billy Connelly??? Hell yeah, when he's on Ferguson it is incomprehensible! He IS hilarious and should have his own show.

I don't care for Leno, Letterman OR O'Brien, though any can be funny here and there. After Steve Allen and Johnny Carson these guys just don't measure up.

Baylink said...

You're not, actually, "just barely a boomer", sis.

'46-'64. *I* am just barely *not* one.

This thread is pretty hot, but there is a bunch of light mixed in with the heat; I'm pretty comfortable with it. Usenet got hotter than this.

minkil: The latest medication for guys who are going bald. Happily, *I* am going grey, instead. :-)

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I'm a boomer and I like Jay. Conan's okay, but he's the worst interviewer extant.

D. McEwan said...

"mcp said...
Most slapstick comes from vaudville through and added by Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd (even though he was a Republican. There, I said it so D. McEwan wouldn't have to)."


Ah, thanks? I was long aware of Lloyd's far-right politics, but it had no effect on his comedy, which was not at all political. And I had found Lloyd did nothing for me long before I learned of his politics. Chaplin was, of course, very, very far left, and his politics did enter into his comedy, not to its betterment. Keaton, by far my favorite of the three, was utterly apolitical. I can't say that he ever had a political opinion in his life, and I've read pretty much every word ever written about him. (I also met Keaton briefly, in 1964, one of the great thrills of my life.)

But slapstick was centuries old before vaudeville came into being. It goes back to the Greeks, 400 years and more BC.

"Rob said...
I have always been convinced that Leno's fortunes stem from a combination of four things.... NBC's pre-Zucker lineup, the lineup of guests, his primary demographic's age group's lack of desire to find or use the remote, that same demographic's desire to find something to fall asleep to. Leno was always video wallpaper. Bland enough to be mildly amused by occasionally, but not so much that you had to stay up to see what happened next."


I'd have to agree with all that.

"Jay is lazy. Yes, you can argue that all talk show hosts fall into the same pattern of bits, but Jay's bits all came from other sources, including his competition."

That is an interesting observation, because Jay is not lazy in a very obvious sense: he works all the time. When he finishes his TV show, he hops on a jet, and goes and plays a gig in another state. He works way more than he has any sane reason to. He certainly doesn't do it for the money. He seems to hate the idea of an evening home with Mavis.

But he has certainly become creatively lazy exactly as Rob has described. Rob's overall analysis of Jay's work is pretty perceptive.

"Rodney said...
Of course Leno would lead the Comedy Store strike because HE had a huge stake in it."


Leno didn't "lead" the strike. Tom Dreesen did. I was there. Believe me, I was present for the whole schmeer, every day of it. Tom Dreesen and George Miller were the true leaders of it. Leno was a big spokesman, and very much part of it, but one reason Jay was made a figuehead on it was because he was already marked for success. People knew who he was. Dave was just as much a part of it as Jay. That $25 bucks a set, and the portion of the Main Room door they eventually won was not a large bump in Jay's income at the time, and made not a penny for Letterman, who stopped setting foot there after George Miller was 86'd from The Comedy Store shortly after the strike concluded. But it was very significant to the smaller, lesser-known comics.

There is an excellent book out on the Comic's Strike of 1979 now: "I'M DYING UP HERE".

Kirk Jusko said...
Harold Lloyd a Republican? I guess I shouldn't be surprised.


Oh yes. Close friend of Ronnie Reagan, Barry Goldwater. Took a lot of amazing 3-D photos of the Republican conventions. But whether he was back in the 1920s, I don't know. Anyway, I don't think it really reflects in his work. You don't have to be a Republican to be a go-getter, and capitalism wsa the society in which he lived, so of course it's the society in his work.

It's nice to know a nearsighted guy would rise to such heights in screen comedy. I'd be really disillusioned if I ever found out otherwise.

Bad day for you then. The glasses were just a prop until late in his career. In his early days, he called his character "The Glasses Character" because he played other characters without glasses, but "Glasses" was the guy who took off.

A_Homer said...

As a boomer I can add audiences are difficult to pin down to generations alone - take SNL, which belongs more to the way corporate-suits (still not old) did not anticipate punk-music ethos on comedy and underground, and popular culture after 1975 (which SNL championed on its show) especially music and a sense of the last "late night" illicit culture which existed, when improv and satire were still going to mix for incredible effect. It was only hip for a brief second like that till Steve Martin played stadiums. So with that in mind, it also identified with punk's "f**k off" to the corporate rock music culture and tv-reps like Don Kirschner for example (excellently played by none other than Paul Shaeffer) or in the case of SCTV, all the iterations of Merv Griffin and Tonite-show programs. No, really, many boomers didn't "get" SNL in the beginning. And by the way, Carson was never THAT cool as people are making him out, just like the Dean Martin show is only retro interesting. It was a very specific scenario in a world where there were only a few channels on tv, few places to buy LPs, few radio stations in your area, and so on. Really hard to compare to the world of the Leno audience, which obviously doesn't want surprises but Leno's surface missives mixed with moralistic judgements with some wink-wink (Hugh Grant as the single example for that) and mostly secure in how corporate tv forms consensus around the safety of mediocrity (like todays SNL).

There was little space for Conan to negotiate something different. Sweet guy maybe, but he needs some of his mentioned cynicism to attain the heights of the EARLY SNL edge or even understand what is Lettermanesque about Letterman.

Conan never got near what Dave did (in his old age already) by trying to take a fruitbasket to his new corporate owners, and being shown turned away at the door. Or talking back to Bill O'Reilly, etc...

carol said...

David K. M. Klaus said...

I'd love to see Mr. Ferguson have both Billy Connelly and David Tennant as guests on the same night so they can all try to out-Scot each other.

Dude, that would be beyond awesome.

Maybe we should just get Jonathan Ross on this side of the pond. :)

Charles H. Bryan said...

People try to put us down . . .

Mic said...

Sorry, Cherry2000, but each generation either creates or allows the creation of its own dung.

How do you figure the poor hippies (you know, the artists) created all the best art of this country within the "greatest economy?"

As you may or may not be aware, the majority of the creators of that generation's arts consciously "dropped out" of said economy (among other things). Though obviously some wound up enjoying financial success as a result of their art.
It wasn't the financial success that CREATED the art, it was the LACK THEREOF. It was knowing how to appreciate LIFE, not money.

Your beloved "next generation" has allowed the powers of corporate marketing to define their lives for them and make them slaves to consumerism. THAT is where your steaming pile of dung comes from.

Don't like it? Do something about it. Only you can. Stop blaming the past and its successes for your failure. Take some responsibility, and take action.
Or quit whining, keep buying all the shit you're complaining about, and get the hell out of the way.

We now have the POTENTIAL for the greatest "lives" in human history. OUR generation. But we're at a turning point... you can TAKE control, or you can BE controlled. Either way, it's not the last generation's fault.

Mic said...

Teddy-

"Even Cheech plays the genial Mexican these days."

If you've ever seen Chong's solo act, you should understand why.

I'm a huge fan of the guys, but I strongly suspect it was ALWAYS Chong behind it all. Cheech was just a guy with some talent along for the ride. Just like he is now.

Dana Gabbard said...

Neal Gabler is an idiot. His "official" biography of Walt Disney is widely derided by folks who know the subject. Even Walt's daughter has denounced it. So now wonder his column on Leno v. Conan blows...

Matt Patton said...

The combination of Benny Hill and talk shows reminded me of one his best sketches. It was supposedly the first episode of a new talk show (Hill was playing the poor host). The first guest, The Oldest Man in Britain, drops dead just as he's walking on stage (the body gets pulled off-stage under the curtain). The next guest is a vicar who coaches an amateur soccer team because he wants to prove that "vicars are just like other men." What the poor slob doesn't realize (but the host does) is that his fly is undone, so he's making the point a little too well (and setting up almost as many double entendres as one of the "Carry On" movies that were popular in England at the time). The next guests are the stars of a new play that has just opened; the leading man is so shy that all he can do is fumble with his pipe, and the leading lady is drunk out of her mind--she winds up weeping loudly and trying to crawl over the host to get at a box of cigarettes. At this point the host says "Well, that's all for tonight. I can see by the clock that we only have (pause) 41 minutes left." Freeze frame, then blackout. One of the funniest things he ever did.

DwWashburn said...

http://www.newsfromme.com/archives/2010_01_24.html#018420

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

"... and even those computer things the kids today are all raving about."

Yeah, I love my WebTV.

D. McEwan said...

"carol said...
Maybe we should just get Jonathan Ross on this side of the pond. :)"


Ew. Wossy? No thanks. (Although he is at liberty, as he and the BBC have come to a parting of the ways.) He isn't even close to as clever as he thinks he is.

Now importing Graham Norton I could get behind, which is how he likes it!

"Dana Gabbard said...
Neal Gabler is an idiot. His 'official' biography of Walt Disney is widely derided by folks who know the subject. Even Walt's daughter has denounced it."


Well of course they derided it. They have a financial stake in keeping the myths about Walt going. And there's no call to put quotes around "official". It was a fully-authorised biography. He was given full access and no restrictions, and spent three years reading every scrap of paper in the Disney Archives. No other human being has ever read the entire Disney Archives. Roy didn't disavow it. I read the book, and it was excellent. I've read every major bio of Disney, and many of the minor ones, and Gabler's stands high above the others. They're still selling it at Disneyland. As for Diane Miller Disney, she has her own new book out to sell, so it's no surprise she's lambasting what is now competition. Who wants the truth about "Daddy" out anyway?

That's not to say Neal doesn't have his head up his butt on Leno and Boomers.

"Matt Patton said...
setting up almost as many double entendres as one of the 'Carry On' movies that were popular in England at the time"


Ah, the Carry Ons. I love them. Utterly unpretentious fun. Sadly, only the first 12 are out on American DVD (I have all 12). I'm still waiting for the rest of them to be released. Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, and Charles Hawtry can make me smile even on the bleakest of days.

Anonymous said...

At 50 I guess I'm at the tail end of the boomers, but I'll gladly accept Gen-X instead. I've always felt I've been following the boomer's self-congratulatory parade through history. And you know what the guy following the circus has to clean up....

So, yes, Letterman over Leno. But Craig over Conan when they were on at the same time. Not that I hate Conan, but I don't think he ever had a chance to develop a good comedic personality before being tossed on to the national stage. Like a dish that, instead of being cooked for an hour at 300, got broiled for 10 minutes at 1000 and then tossed in the freezer, he's a bit rough around the edges and undone in the middle.

I'd suggest Conan spend the next 7 months developing a stand up routine: just him, with no band or bears. If it's long enough that pure frenetic energy won't carry him through he'd have to develop a rapport with the audience. I think it would make him a better host in the future.

And, sadly, in the short term I expect Leno will be back at the top of the ratings. Unless ABC drops NightLine and moves Kimmel to 11:35. He's in the best position to grab Conan's crowd. That would make it a real horse race. And hey, if Jimmy's not cutting it after 7 months, Conan will be available....

Imajazzbaby said...

Okay, I'm 56 years old this June. I was at the I'm with Coco Rally in Universal City. Because we got in the line for standby tickets at 6 freaking AM and got numbers 64, 65, 66 and 67. Yeah, we didn't make it it in.

We. I went with my sons.

I got your demographic right here.....

culturewharf said...

Conan may be the better comedian, but comedy and cultural attitudes are definitely generational. For example I'm a Gen-Yer who is really turned off by Conan's whining and self-imposed martyrdom. Do any other young people out there think Conan needs to stop crying about being given 40 million to go away?

http://culturewharf.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/fragile-gen-x-syndrome-the-publics-embrace-of-a-whiny-hero/

obbop said...

How about re-runs of the Lawrence Welk show to replace Conan and Leno?

Some Myron Florin pounding away at that accordion would perk up the herd.

And when those Lennon Sisters twirl and expose some nylon-covered calves millions of libidos will be set on fire.

So many reasons to call upon Lawrence to do what he does so well.