Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Conan's debut

It's good to have Coco back.  But I’ve got to be honest, by the time he got to Lea Michele I was reaching for the remote. And after a six-month build-up to this show and the whole internet full court press (I'm still pissed that he has 10,000,000 more Twitter followers than me), that’s not a good sign.

The Conan I love is the one who is irreverent, loose, and unpredictable. At his best, he presides over inspired anarchy. What I disliked most about his move from late night to THE TONIGHT SHOW was that it felt more conventional. To broaden his appeal he toned down the lunacy (until the end of course, when he just didn’t give a shit). I always assumed that was a mandate from the network.

And so I was hoping when he relocated to basic cable that he’d throw off the shackles and really go for it. And maybe he still will. It was just his first night. Also, I assume the amped up nervous energy will dissipate once he settles in and realizes he’s on the same network that reruns sitcoms literally twenty hours a day. He’s on the ACCORDING TO JIM station.

But what I saw Monday was just another late night talk show. After an inspired filmed opening, Coco settled into the usual talk show format. Monologue, schmooze with co-host (good to have Andy back, too), tedious celebrities shilling their latest projects, a musical guest rushing through one quick number, and “goodnight, everybody!” Come on, Conan. This is the time slot once filled by FRANK TV and even worse, the stupifyingly unfunny, George Lopez. You can trim your nose hairs for an hour and it will still be better. It’s a no-lose! So take advantage.

Like I said, the opening film showing his journey from NBC to TBS was funny. Loved the interview with Don Draper. And the opening monologue made me laugh a lot. A few NBC shots but not belabored. This was my favorite:

But the weird thing is this: I put myself and my staff through a lot because I refused to go on at midnight. So I get this job at eleven. Then, yesterday, Daylight Savings Time ended --- so right now it’s basically midnight. In fact, it’s 12:05. I’m an idiot!

I laughed out loud (which is one time more than I think I ever did during a Jay Leno monologue).

The schmooze-at-the-desk-with-Andy segment also had its moments. The “Ex-Talk Show Host” mask was a riot. And you can never go wrong with a Ricky Gervais bit.

But then came the guests. Here’s where the show crashed and burned. Conan is clearly uncomfortable in the role of straight man/interviewer. He goes from being a gifted comedian to a census taker at the end of a twelve hour shift. And his first two guests didn’t help. Seth Rogen (sporting his new Mark Feuerstein look) was painful. He shared the hilarious story of proposing to his wife while she was topless. And he managed to get in the word “titties”, too! Nicely turned, Mr. Rogen. Then he promoted a movie that doesn’t come out for two months.

Up next was Lea Michele from GLEE, yammering about her father not thinking she could sing at age eight. At that point Conan himself looked like he wanted to change the channel to see what Colbert was doing.

Things improved in the two-minute musical segment with Jack White, mostly because Conan participated. The fact that he can play an instrument and sort of carry a tune makes him unique among talk show hosts. Anything Coco can do to distinguish himself is a plus. Instead of robotically feeding Lea Michele questions it would have been fun if Conan had tried to sing with her. With Seth Rogen, I don’t know what you do.

Practically all of the laughs this first night came from Conan’s career turmoil. Very funny, yes. But it’s time to move on. You’ve got a good job. Jeff Zucker is out of work. Jay is losing to Dave. On to the next great masturbating bear.

So stop downing 5 Hour Energy Drinks as if they were shots of tequila, let Seth Rogen hawk his crap on LOPEZ TONIGHT, and be that crazy goofy guy I first met in the SIMPSONS writing room that I thought was so enormously talented and disturbed.


Joanna said...

Honest to God, I was really looking forward to him talking to the woman who runs the nutcracker museum. Carson did stuff like that! (Or so YouTube tells me.) God, Seth and Lea are boring.

Jonny said...

I honestly think the show would be better if it was just a half-hour. To watch an hour of Conan every night, making it 5 hours a week. That's too much. I won't be able to take it. Ken's right in that the guest just killed him last night. I don't see how he'll keep it up. If this is going to work he needs more non-guest content beyond him and Andy (who was great last night) just dicking around (although they do that wonderfully).

Chris Anton said...

Why is it noteworthy that "Coco settled into the usual talk show format". He's been doing late night for almost 20 years. He's not trying to reinvent the wheel.

Aaron Barnhart said...

So, don't watch the guests! Colbert is on. Dave is ranting at his desk. Nightline does three stories a night. That's the amazing thing about late night in 2010 - there are more live choices than ever, not to mention whatever crap show about hoarding that you've hoarded on your DVR.

I watched Stephen for a few minutes until Lea Michele had passed, then returned for Jack White (including that very odd desk chat).

Brian said...

I found your review right on the mark, especially these:

1. "But what I saw Monday was just another late night talk show."

2. "Conan is clearly uncomfortable in the role of straight man/interviewer."

These were true at NBC, now they're true at TBS.


Sally creeping down the alley said...

Oh, Conan is back on Tv? Hadn't heard. Thanks for the news...


Maybe there's something on You Tube--perhaps something funny, like a beheading or something.

Conan? Lopez? Leno? Dave (sometimes). Kimmel (is he still on)? Fallon?

Craig Ferguson. Yes. The rest? I'll pass, thanks.

MBunge said...

"Practically all of the laughs this first night came from Conan’s career turmoil."

I saw some online comment that the reason Conan bombed at the Tonight Show is that his humor is very internally focused and he kind of sucks at looking out at the world and making jokes about it.

Oh, well. At least the people who didn't watch him on NBC can now not watch him on TBS.


RDaggle said...

"tedious celebrities shilling their latest projects"

That's not going to change, IMO. The only reason talk shows are on the air in 2010 - every talk show -is for product placement by corporate media.

Without that, the timeslots would all be given over to cheaper reruns.

wv = tranchoo - when a cattle baron sneezes

Bob said...

I tuned in to see how long it would be till the writers wrote themselves into a sketch as actors.

34 seconds.

I'm out.

Michael Zand said...

Sorry to say but I was never a huge Conan fan. I find him a bit too cute.

Craig Ferguson is the best late night talk show host bar none. He's the most natural and spontaneous of the bunch and he NEVER pushes or hypes. His thing is to deconstruct the whole late night format for and show it for the artifice that it is. It also means his shows can range from just okay to inspired. But with the right guest on the right night he is amazing. His stuff with the rabbit puppet never gets old and is consistently hilarious. He's always real. The best of the lot.

Brian said...

Early on in David Letterman's run, he had a guest on describing a cross-country drive. After a short time, Dave's pre-recorded voice came on, as if you coul read his thoughts.

It said something like, "GEEZ, what a boring guest. He's probably going to talk about gas mileage".

Back to the interview, you hear the fellow say, "The trip went off pretty much without a hitch and the mileage we were getting was amazing..."

It was touches like that that kept me watching Letterman and hopefully O'Brien will loosen up and show us the subversive talent that brought up things like "The Playskool Rubbernecking Channel" which consisted of stock footage of a car wreck fronted by Playskool wooden doll being pulled in toy cars.

WV: unocury - A division of the Ford Motor Corporation, after restructuring.

Mr. Hollywood said...

Remember when we had "conversation" in late night TV? With people who could actually converse ... rather then just shill their latest dreck?
I love Conan .. very smart, very funny ... but when he sits down at the desk to do his "interviews" and is constantly looking at his little blue card "cheat sheets" ... Jesus Conan ... it is so distracting! Come on now ... I have done hundreds of interviews and there is no reason to need more then one good opening question and you are off and running! How long have you been doing this Conan? Lose those damn cards ... because you are so busy looking at them you forget you are talking to a guest!

JestJake said...

Bring back Tom Snyder and Jack Parr and Dick Cavett from the dead... Wait. Cavett's not dead, is he?

Okay, substitute Chevy Chase on the dead list instead.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've seen the new TV series "The Walking Dead" yet, but it prompted a Friday question in my brain.

The main setting is the zombie apocalypse, and of course none of the zombies have any spoken dialogue (and if the show stays true to its source material, they never will). So the question is, does this mean there's zero chance any actor playing a zombie will ever get paid beyond "extra" status? If spoken dialogue is the ticket into a big jump in pay, is every one of these shambling corpses out of luck no matter how integral they might be individually in a given episode?

Just curious.


selection7 said...

It's important to reiterate this was the first night. If he's a normal human being then he's going to be happy with just getting through the first night, not expecting himself to be "in the zone" (and when he is, he's as witty with the guests as it gets).

But I also agree that the Tonight Show with Conan felt stiff compared to the old Conan. I wasn't perturbed by his firing because I honestly thought the show might be better by scrapping it and starting over. I'm surprised they kept Andy at that podium as long as they did. It didn't work from the very first night.

Sparky said...

I thought it was a good show...
reminiscent of Late Night, rather than his stiff, unnatural Tonight Show. He's going to be fine.

Tony said...

It's interesting Ken, when I imagine a hypothetical Conan show that meets your wishes outlined here, it looks a lot like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (which obviously builds off the work of his predecessors). I had hoped Conan would be more of a variety show and less of a talk show, but I'm not quite ready to judge it yet.

Craig Ferguson may be the best host right now, but the best show is Late Night--with The Roots, Jimmy's everyman interview style, skits, guest and audience competitions like beer pong and battle of the instant bands, plus musical parodies and absurdist bits like "Let Us Play with Your Look," Late Night has been killing it pretty much since the first day.

Troy said...

I mostly agree with Tony above.

Jimmy Fallon currently has the best late-night talk show, which is even more incredible when you consider just how terrible Fallon started out (which is where Tony and I disagree).

One simple reason? He seems to be the only guy who is genuinely having fun.

We'll see how long it lasts.

As for Craig Ferguson, I respect the hell out of the guy's intelligence, but IMO, his show is too much Craig Ferguson.

There are nights when he doesn't pull a guest out until almost 40 minutes into the show.

And when the guests do come out, he's constantly looking for a comedic opening, often overshadowing - or literally overshouting - his guest (which is where I very much disagree with the poster above who says he "never pushes it").

I know many people disagree with this, but he needs to relax and stop goosing it so much. He's a very smart guy. IMO, he doesn't need to so often put on the metaphorical clown nose and honk his LCD horn.

And Conan?

IMO, Conan missed a golden opportunity to separate himself from the herd.

As Brian above said, "Pity".

Coco Puffery said...

Conan is still too self-involved. They force-manufactured his persona from the early days to compensate for his being an unknown. His hair, his string dance, his pale face, (by the way, lose the beard)the mask bearing, HIS likeness. The show title with one word only, HIS name. Team COCO. A little too much navel gazing for my taste.

Janet T said...

I did like the name of the show and the reasoning behind it- But honestly, I'll stick to the Daily show and Colbert- and for late, late night? Craig Ferguson is hands down the funniest out there- puppets and all

qwerty said...

I agree about Craig Ferguson, he's so loose and relaxed and hilarious. I'm a big Coco fan, too, and I thought the opening of the show was good, but the guests let him wayyy down and he wasn't loose enough or fearless enough to make it funny. Seth Rogen was horrendous. How could he think anyone would like that loathsome little story about his wife? And Lea Michele is boring. I personally would love to see more bits, and funnier guests that he can be looser with (like Norm McDonald's appearance on the last Tonight show with the bouquet he meant to give him but never got around to) Let's see what he does with Tom Hanks for example. Hopefully he'll loosen up, get rid of those cards, be willing to play a little. I still say that Dave Letterman, esp. in the first years at NBC, was brilliant beyond anything that's on today.

Ian said...

Is it bad that I have absolutely no idea who Mark Feuerstein is?

Cap'n Bob said...

It has always been my contention that Conan is a decent comic but lousy interviewer. He seems to think his guests are there as foils for his wit, such as it is. I don't get his appeal.

te said...

Ian: I think Feuerstein's obscurity is sort of the point. (He currently stars in "Royal Pains").

Like Stewart/Colbert, Conan is on only four nights -- the same four nights -- per week. Everybody gets Friday off.

Conan repeats at 1 a.m. which is helpful for those who want to record it but can't turn off the machine quickly enough after the 10:00 shows.

I look at last night as a "soft" opening, hence the 2nd tier guests. That said, Conan is Conan.

Though I like the band a lot (same as before with James Wormworth replacing Max), what "20 Flight Rock" does not need is a horn section.

barnez28 said...

I don't watch Conan that much, if any Late Night Show it is Letterman, and of course he is beating Leno, he isn't funny, Conan could beat Leno. And I 100 percent agree that Frank Caliendo and George Lopez are not funny, I rather stare at a wall then watch there shows. I'll have to check TBS out at eleven, even though I'm use to changing the channel to something else at that time.

404 said...

I enjoyed it, but agree with what you said above. I always used to turn Conan off after the interviews started, and that will probably continue. Still, it is good to have him back.

Calling him "unique" among talk show hosts for showing musical ability and getting in on the acts is a bit misinformed, though, as Fallon frequently does musical numbers with (or without) guests. He plays games with them, involves them, the Roots, and everyone, in just about everything he does, and really has created an aura where you really never know exactly what's going to happen. that's why Fallon is the best, imo. I'm hoping Conan will step it up as he gets his groove back.

Friday question: I agreed with the outstanding post you did a couple of weeks (months?) ago concerning "Outsourced" and why it was a subpar show. However, I think since then it has gotten better and better. It's still not great, but it has improved and is pretty enjoyable now, at least sometimes. I'm curious what shows through the years you originally thought were drivel, only to tune in weeks, months, or even years later only to find that the quality of the show had improved and turned it into a good show worth watching?

Alice said...

He'll forever be Conrad Bloom to me.

Also, Craig Ferguson is hands down the absolute king of late night TV.

A_Homer said...

I have to say that I agree he could-of, should-of shaped a different destiny for himself at this point. The talk show has many more variations possible to it. It can't be budget issues.

I think the show needs to get to the point again where there were all these different kinds of segments (at one point he had the interviews with images of celebs and political figures with moving mouths, Triumph segments, Andy segments with Conan on location, etc... ) and not the 1990s way. This isn't just vaudeville extended. It's a networked culture, use it a bit more as a live factor. Conan needs interruptions to riff off of. Personally I think he should have just melded together the live stage tour he was doing with this tv show. In a way, add one more large stage in which all this new venue takes place. It would be a stage that is located between the live studio audience, the tv audience and the social network audience. Make it more clear. Change the viewing habit for that. His work with the guest-interview is then just a stage within a stage. He doesn't need to stay orthodox with it - he could introduce Larry Sanders-like off-side / backstage discussions for example. The guests wouldn't care on cable!

To be more literal, he shouldn't have just introduced that moon image for his backdrop, his show should be taking place there - at least in spirit!

D. Sinatra said...

Kind of reminded me of Conan's first days at 12:30. It seemed like no one liked him, he even got dissed by Paul Harvey during News and Comment.

Luckily, TV execs don't make rash decisions before a show finds its groove, right?

Conan is gonna be just fine and I'm looking forward to it!

Anonymous said...

Ken, it's time for a NETFLIX pick of the month. How about your favorite animated film of all time?