Thursday, May 21, 2009

Just a Man and His Will to Survive

When I was in college and Conan O’Brien landed the gig as David Letterman’s replacement, I was excited. As an intense Simpsons geek, I was one of the few hundred people in America who had an opinion of him. He was the credited writer on “The New Kid on the Block” and “Marge vs. the Monorail,” two of the show’s best-ever episodes. He was more than all right in my book.

Eighty-seven years later, here we are. I haven’t actually watched much of Conan (or one of my idols, Letterman) over the past few years. You reach a point where you’ve seen, oh, nine thousand hours of late night TV, and no matter how much you respect the hosts, that seems like enough. But I’ll admit that this goofy promo for O’Brien’s debut on “The Tonight Show” has me -- there’s no other word for it -- psyched. This might simply be the presence of “Eye of the Tiger,” which, even when used ironically, has a tendency to pump me up. (I had a long dalliance with Rocky III when I was young. I’m not proud of it.)

The forthcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine features a long article about O’Brien’s transition. (The piece is already available online. The new “Tonight Show” premieres June 1.) The article features much of what you’d expect, including Jay Leno saying a bunch of dumb things, many of them involving a metaphor of America as a football.

I sympathize with O’Brien’s inability, five years ago, to properly view the future:
In 2004, when O’Brien’s contract was up and other networks were aggressively wooing him, NBC promised him their flagship. “But they wanted me to wait five years to be the host of ‘The Tonight Show,’ ” O’Brien told me. “And in 2004, 2009 sounded absurdly far away. I thought that in 2009, we’d be flying around with jet packs and our dinners would be in pill form.”
The future’s here now, though. The question is whether O’Brien’s absurd sense of humor will remain the same in L.A., and, if the answer to that is yes, whether viewers will want it in large enough numbers to make him the same success at 11:30 as he was at 12:30. We’ll see. For what it’s worth, the answer to the first question is shaping up to be yes:
Ideas [for the new show] were starting to take shape, too, many of them inspired by the back lot itself. “Jaws” was a huge hit for Universal, and one writer suggested that Bruce, the mechanical shark, could occasionally drop by the show. “In our mind, he sounds like Paul Lynde,” O’Brien explained. “He dishes dirt about his co-stars.”


Blogger Miles Doyle said...

pearl jam is playing his first show.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I'm worried that he'll be less goofy to appeal tot he earlier more mainstream and older demographic. The shark with a paul lynde voice though reassures and tickles me. Anybody or anything that can do a good Paul Lynde is way funny.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" television in more comfortable chair" indeed! From bed, the only way. Go Conan, do us proud.

7:48 AM  

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