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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Commercial Interruption: Conan's first night

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Thomas Rozwadowski and Sara Boyd are yawning a bit this morning having stayed up for Conan O'Brien's long-awaited debut as "The Tonight Show" host. Yes, we realize that Conan is on a full hour earlier at 10:35 p.m. Yes, we realize that's still pretty early to most people -- even old folks who were aghast that their beloved Jay Leno would no longer be beaming into their homes at the usual time. Yes, we realize that being kinda tired after staying up a whole hour later makes us really, really lame.

Thomas: I won't admit to being the BIGGEST Conan O'Brien fan in the world (put it this way, I know PimpBot yet can't recite bits off the top of my head), but I certainly love his work and always appreciated the eclectic musical guests he had on his show. So for me, Monday's changing of the guard wasn't about dissecting individual bits, reading day-after reviews or gauging early audience response. Conan's going to get a nice bump because people are naturally curious about the transition. But especially once Leno assumes the 9 p.m. mantle this fall, it'll be interesting to see if it's just business as usual for quirky, spazzy "Late Night" Conan -- only an hour earlier for people who can no longer justify staying up so late in their post-college years. So ... what did I take away from Day One of "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien?" (Man, that's weird to type.) The opening "Surrender" bit with Conan running cross-country was classic. Just what I look forward to when I tune in. I've always loved Conan's facial expressions and the uncomfortable humor that stems from silence. So when he wrecked the Hollywood "D" and stared blankly into space, it was like hanging out with an old friend again.

What I truly appreciate about Conan is that he created a late night staple on his own terms. He embraced wild experimentation and free flowing creativity, and while it would appear that he might be handicapped by an earlier time slot (and the need to maintain Leno's audience and No. 1 ranking), I don't think that's what drives Conan. So he won't conform to that pressure. If anything, Jay as a lead-in will probably help him maintain an individual voice. The people who'll say, "Eh, he's not Leno" can HAVE Leno if they want ... and earlier to boot! So if Jay's audience comes, that's a cherry on top. If not ... well, I can't imagine anyone who regularly tuned into Jay would care anyways. Conan has legions of fans. He'll do just fine.

Sure, Conan needs to protect the "Tonight" legacy, but that he'll also be able to reinvent the platform in 2009 is really, really exciting. I've already given him Season Pass status on my DVR, and I think that'll hold up beyond the first week. Just one gripe: please, please more of Andy Richter starting tonight!

What did you think, Sara?

Sara: I will admit to being the BIGGEST Conan O'Brien fan in the world. I may or may not possess a poster of the hilarious red head emulating Hugh Hefner ... one that hung in my bedroom during my teen years. Some girls dreamed of Justin Timberlake ... and I woke up every morning to Conan's face. (Not going to lie, on especially drowsy mornings that was a shocking wake-up call.) So I was more than excited to see what ol' Conany had in store for his big debut to the "Tonight Show" spot.

I agree, the opening bit that had Conan sprinting across the country to "move to L.A." was perfect. Just when you thought, "OK, this is getting a bit tired, is he just going to run or what?" Conan pulls out his typical kookiness and makes a pit stop to a creepy doll museum. Well done, sir ... well done. I was also very pleased to see that when he finally made it into the studio, not much had changed from his typical opening bits. The jumping was there, the dancing was there, the pulling of the invisible strings attached to his hips and then cutting them individually was there. There was a new set -- quite the extravagant one at that -- and a new location, but it was still good ol' Conan and he made it abundantly clear that not even Hollywood could change him or the car that he drives. (Yes, the emerald '92 Ford Taurus even made the trip.)

The only thing that I wonder, going into this new "Tonight Show" spot, is what will happen to the musical guests. Typically with the earlier time slot -- and the way Leno ran the music -- it was all popular artists and big names. Conan is well known for his underground music, as Roz mentioned, so it'll be interesting to see if that changes. Clearly with the kickoff show, I understand you need those big names and Pearl Jam -- well, that was just a sweet first gig. Speaking of music, I was very excited to see that Max Weinberg and his infamous 7 were back in action and even had a similar set up to their spot in NYC. I hope the earlier time spot won't have any effect on Conan and Max's banter -- which could sometimes involve photos of Max in a speedo.

So Roz, going forward, I know you mentioned Andy (and yes, I totally agree), but anything else you're hoping for?

Thomas: Again, not knowing what to expect of the Leno lead-in, I would anticipate that if the 9 p.m. slot becomes "Tonight Show Lite," Conan will have zero problem securing guests beyond the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt stratosphere. Same goes for musical guests of the Grizzly Bear-Animal Collective variety. Letterman routinely does those bookings, and I have faith in Conan's unwavering commitment to creativity, wackiness and quality tunes. I also can't imagine NBC would have handed over the reins if they wanted Conando to tone it down or become a bland Leno copycat.

Overall, I don't think anyone should judge "The Tonight Show" by its first night, or even its first week. Like a new restaurant, you have to give it at least two months to make an impression. By that time, all the kinks should be ironed out and an identity -- for good or bad -- will be properly formed. I have faith Conan is going to deliver and make late night viewing a priority for quite a few people again.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,, and Sara Boyd,

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