Tag Archives: Conan O’Brien

Conan the Morning After: Critics Respond to the Premiere

Conan the Morning After: “Baa Baa Blackmail”

November 9th, 2010

Despite what their titles or tags may say, no one really “reviewed” Conan last night.

While an evaluative measure may have been undertaken by numerous critics, it is always with an asterisk: yes, we all had our opinions following Conan O’Brien’s return to late night television, but making a judgment based on a single episode of a show which plans to air four episodes a week is effectively impossible.

This should not, and did not, stop critics from being critical of his performance or from offering their perspective, but it does limit critics to what I’d consider to be “personal responses.” It becomes about what expectations we had going into the broadcast, and whether or not the “Baa Baa Blackmail” (the premiere’s rather fun “title”) lived up to those expectations depends on what precisely we wanted or expected to see.

By collecting some of these responses, i hope to be able to demonstrate that Conan and late night in general are many things to many critics, and that the show is in many ways “for” the precise opposite audience.

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Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response to TBS’ Conan

Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response

November 8th, 2010

Watching Conan was a bit of a bizarre experience. Admittedly, I am not a regular viewer of Late Night, but Conan O’ Brien is probably the host that I enjoy the most, and so I was curious (if not necessarily outright excited) for him to return to the airwaves. And so I tuned into TBS for the debut of his new series, a debut which stems from a ridiculous and controversial transition at NBC, and…it was a bit weird.

It’s especially weird coming out of a period where the idea of Conan O’Brien, which is frankly what I would call myself a fan of, was all we had: with just a Twitter feed to sustain us, the mythology of Conan in the “Team Coco” era actually seemed to get a bit out of control. Once a cult favorite among younger demographics, stuck at 12:30, Conan has become a national symbol of the downtrodden despite becoming filthy rich in the process. As a result, while I am glad that Conan is back on television, I no longer have that sense that he exists as a counter to the establishment, as an odd duck who does what Leno does with a subversive edge that sets him apart.

Instead, Conan’s difference has become a commodity, and the result is a premiere which relies so heavily on recent history that it obscures what precipitated his rise to folk heroism in such a way that boils his act down to the past year of his career.

Which results in a funny hour of late night television, but one which fits more comfortably into broader public discourse than Conan’s history would suggest. The following is not a judgment of the series, impossible since it has aired only a single episode, but an effort to understand why I responded to the premiere in this way.

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The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

July 8th, 2010

The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.

Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.

However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.

It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.

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The 2010 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations

The 2010 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations

July 8th, 2010

[For complete analysis of the 2010 Emmy Nominees, head to my full breakdown, “The Trick is to Watch TV,” here.]

Here are the nominees for the 2010 Emmy Awards (and, for added value, my gut feelings in terms of early favourites have been bolded): for all of the awards, click here to download the Academy’s PDF.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • True Blood
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Good Wife
  • Dexter
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
  • Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights)
  • January Jones (Mad Men)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Matthew Fox (Lost)

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Official Ballot Miscellany

Official Ballot Miscellany

June 4th, 2010

Earlier this evening, Emmy voting officially began; this isn’t particularly important to us non-voters, but it does mean that the official ballots were released (PDFs: Performers, Writing, Directing), which means that we know who submitted their names for Emmy contention and can thus make our predictions accordingly. In some cases, this simply confirms our earlier submissions regarding particularly categories, while in other cases it throws our expectations for a loop as frontrunners or contenders don’t end up submitting at all.

For example, Cherry Jones (who last year won for her work on 24) chose not to submit her name for contention this year, a decision which seems somewhat bizarre and is currently being speculatively explained by her unhappiness with her character’s direction in the show’s final season. It completely changes the anatomy of that race, removing a potential frontrunner and clearing the way for some new contenders (or, perhaps, another actress from Grey’s Anatomy). Either way, it’s a real shakeup, so it makes this period particularly interesting.

I will speak a bit about some surprising omissions and inclusions in the categories I’ve already covered this week, but I want to focus on the categories that I haven’t discussed yet, including the guest acting categories, writing, and direction, which are some interesting races this year.

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Last Night with Conan O’Brien: Goodbye to the Tonight Show

I’m sorry, Conan.

I didn’t watch your Tonight Show. At 11:35, I’m more likely to be writing about television than watching it, and for that I truly have to apologize. I was part of the problem, part of the group of people who celebrated Conan O’Brien’s rise to the Tonight Show but who never bothered to keep tuning in. I watched a few episodes early on, and enjoyed the feeling of pride that “my” host pushing out Jay Leno, but then when push came to shove I was content with knowing Conan was there.

I know it’s not my fault: even if Conan’s ratings had been incrementally better, chances are that NBC still would have made the decision to push his show back, and this whole mess would still be happening. And considering that Conan is walking away with an enormous severance package and will likely be back on our televisions within a year, it’s not as if the man himself is truly losing his job and left without a chance of success.

But there is something tragic about seeing someone robbed of doing what he loved, and robbed of doing it on the stage he always dreamed of. He left this job because he felt as if NBC was disrespecting its legacy, and like the consummate professional he is Conan showed an enormous amount of respect for both the Tonight Show’s legacy and his time at NBC in the midst of his final goodbye to the network and the show he feels he is leaving a decade too early. While no one is crying for Coco, considering the severance he received, I don’t think any of us can deny him the right to cry: his tears felt genuine, a love letter to the people who brought him to where he is and a final curtain to a run at NBC that took him from comedy writer to national sensation.

His final episode (and mine) of The Tonight Show was one hundred percent Conan, one hundred percent heartfelt, and hopefully just a small percentage of what’s to come.

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Betrayal at NBC, Colon, What REALLY happened with my Late Night Show, Question Mark, by Conan O’Brien

Watching Conan O’Brien take to the Tonight Show stage for what might be the final time, I felt emotionally conflicted. On the one hand, I want to be angry that NBC has treated him so poorly, trapping him in the middle of a business dispute and unfairly judging his show far too early for the sake of making other people happy. On the other hand, I want to show support for Conan, and being angry doesn’t entirely reflect how much I appreciate his particular brand of self-deprecation. So when Conan makes jokes about his imminent departure barring some sort of hail mary from NBC, are we supposed to boo to reflect the injustice, or are we supposed to cheer because we want CoCo to know we care?

And then I realized that for all of the emotional conflict I might be experiencing, Conan himself is having to mediate his anger with professionalism, and his sadness with comedy – for all of the verbal gymnastics we’ve been working with over the past number of weeks, trying to figure out how all of this is going to work out, it is nothing compared to what Conan O’Brien has been dealing with inside his head. So it’s that much more miraculous that what emerges in an official statement is pointed but civil, an argument not so much about what is being done to him but rather what NBC is doing to its own reputation, and to the position of the Tonight Show in its late night lineup. And, it’s that much more impressive that he proceeded to go onto his stage and be something that used to be enough to get you somewhere in this business: funny.

I don’t have much further extended thoughts that that, to be honest: while this issue is plenty fascinating, as we see how NBC deals with Conan’s departure and how long it takes Conan to end up at FOX (where it is expected he will be taking over the 11 O’Clock hour), I’m to the point where I simply want to acknowledge the cruel irony that I have paid more attention to Late Night now than I have in a very long time, and to remind everyone that Conan’s money is right on the money: while it might be easy to lay blame at the feet of Jay Leno, the problem here is a network who believes it can turn back time and who is throwing away a potential Tonight Show legacy in the process.

My one goal for the future is ensuring that this doesn’t just become a footnote in the larger story of NBC’s collapse: it is a turning point, a moment where we question the degree to which this network actually wants to craft a new identity, actually wants to climb its way out of the ratings basement. We’ll be debating about this for months, whether in terms of seeing how the network manages its late night situation or discovering just what the network will do with five hours of primetime. And yet at no point in that debate do I want us to forget that this was the time when NBC’s business decisions failed to respect someone who has been with their company for nearly two decades, tarnished the reputation of the man who they rushed out of his job sooner than he wanted in order to respect that person, and managed to end up with a bigger mess than what they started with.

I’m on Team Conan, but I’m also on Team “WTF NBC.” And something tells me that both memberships may be for life.

Cultural Observations

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