Tag Archives: Jay Leno

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.

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Season Premiere: 30 Rock – “Season 4”

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“Season 4”

October 15th, 2009

There has been a lot of talk about a backlash against 30 Rock as of late, with numerous critics taking time out of their schedules to less review the new season and more place it on an axis of television comedy. The question is not so much about whether 30 Rock is funny, but whether it is consistently funny, and whether it is funny in ways that imply long-term development or ways which rely too heavily on quick cutaways and an almost sketch-comedy aesthetic. Whether VanDerWerff or Holmes, Sepinwall or Weinman, everyone seems to agree that 30 Rock is a flawed show capable of occasional genius, and there are certain things that it could do to improve.

In my relatively short time as a TV critic, I’ve spent more of my comedy analyzing time with The Office, a show which features far more nuance than 30 Rock in terms of its characters. On that show, the actions of Michael Scott need to be finely tuned to (in my view) connect with the right level of comedy, or else risk throwing the entire show out of whack. However, with 30 Rock, the show is inherently out of whack which is kind of the point of the whole thing. I don’t shy away from criticizing 30 Rock, nor do I feel that it deserved to steamroll The Office at the Emmys as it did (as the latter show had the better season, in my eyes), but at the same time I don’t feel that criticizing the show is the same as condemning it. 30 Rock, like all shows, isn’t critic-proof (that’s not a thing), but it is a show that manages to make me happy even when it isn’t quite living up to its full potential.

As such, I thought the cheekily titled “Season 4” was largely satisfied with cheeky as opposed to substantive, and that its commitment to that value resulted in an engaging half-hour of television that didn’t reach high enough but nonetheless had me eating out of the palm of its rough-skinned hand. Helped by airing after a less than fully-realized episode of The Office, the start of the fourth season gives almost no indication of what’s to come, but embodied enough of what makes the show work for me to be pretty excited about it anyways. I missed this show, and I’m glad to have it back, flaws and all.

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An Obligatory “State of NBC” Post: Chuck, Jay and Trouble in Southland

nbc-logosmallAs I was getting back from vacation in New York City (there’s some photos of the trip on Flickr), a number of news pieces hit in regards to NBC, easily the most maligned network at the moment. Part of me almost pities the network, to be honest with you: going into this season, every critic was anxious to tear apart the Jay Leno experiment and almost looking for the network to fail. I don’t think this is entirely unfair, as they have ushered in an environment where television drama has become an endangered species on one of the networks, but I think that it meant that NBC was in the public eye in a way that makes this all seem that much more dramatic.

It was ultimately worse than critics could have imagined, and perhaps the worst case scenario for NBC. Jay is getting about the ratings he needs to be considered profitable but well below what he needs to be considered a “success” by any other metric, and the network has all but imploded around him. Outside of reality, which remains buoyed by The Biggest Loser, the network’s dramas (both new and old) are flatlining in a way that no one could have imagined. While Law & Order wasn’t expected to pop on Friday nights, no one expected its spinoff, Special Victims Unit, to implode on Wednesdays. While Heroes’ slide into the ratings basement has been on display for over a year, dragging Trauma into the grave is predictable but nonetheless tragic. Even the Thursday lineup, one that I genuinely love, feels in some way tainted as Parks and Recreation and Community struggle to find viewers. And, of course, to top it all off the network chose to cancel Southland before even airing its second season premiere.

It’s created a network that feels legitimately toxic, an environment that midseason shows like Chuck are going to be forced to wade into. So, when news broke of Chuck potentially being rushed in at the end of October, it seemed like a desperate move for the network to reverse the critical slide by re-introducing a show that we critical folk love. And, for all of my love for the series (I did just purchase a Jeffster t-shirt, after all), I have to say it: I don’t want it to come back this way.

No good can come of it.

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The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity: Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

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The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity

Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

Spontaneity is not Jay Leno’s forte.

That’s really the whole point of Leno’s appeal, at the end of the day – people tuned in at 11:30 at alarming rates because of what they deemed his charming nature, making him like just another part of your nightly tradition. But in relaunching himself as part of the Jay Leno Show, which started tonight on NBC and which will air five nights a week until…well, we don’t quite know.

See, what’s strange about The Jay Leno Show is that they want it to seem spontaneous. They want it to seem like an old variety show, with special guests and different bits and no stuffy desk. So when Leno walks out to his new set, a group of people “spontaneously” rush the stage and crowd around to high five their favourite talk show host for a set period of time. It is true that the crowd seems to enjoy having Jay back, but he’s stuck in a really weird place: he has to appeal to those same viewers while enticing entirely new demographics (who weren’t watching his show before) to tune in. As such, he needs to be appear spontaneous in order to broaden his appeal, and yet at the same time not actually be spontaneous at all so as to appease the crowd who watched him so religiously and who will soon have other options (like CBS’ crime shows, which tend to appeal to the same crowd).

In the end, as a hardened critic who’s on the lower end of the key demographic and who has never particularly enjoyed Leno’s brand of comedy, I wasn’t a fan. However, the problem with the show is that it seemed desperate to try to make me into a fan, a position which was neither spontaneous nor charming, and as such my verdict is clear: on every measurable scale of subjective observation, the Jay Leno Show is an egotistical failure.

But if it turns into an economic success, trust that we’ll be dealing with it for a while.

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Season Premiere: Entourage – “Drive”

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“Drive”

July 12th, 2009

This review is going to be hugely hypocritical for anyone who’s followed my…less than friendly relationship with Entourage.

See, I’ve always been of the mind that the show is at its best when it engages with its dramatic elements, and taps into something beyond “four bros hanging out.” It’s not a particularly popular opinion, as nearly everyone seems to disagree with me and lists their main reason for watching the show as “four bros hanging out,” but it’s the way the show works for me. And last season, I just kept getting more and more frustrated: the show had numerous opportunities to really engage with some real disruptions to Vince and E’s relationship, and to shake things up a little bit, and yet they refused to take them, leaving the dynamic intact as Vince’s career skyrockets.

So, on that criteria, I should have been really happy with “Drive,” which returns to the narrative with Vince riding a wave of Gatsby-related success but drifting apart from E, who is becoming successful in his own right and beginning to see the benefit of being more independent. The result is actually a really subtle statement about maturity, coupled with a couple of periphery storylines and a distinct lack of highly manufactured drama. Really, the episode should have been everything I should like in a half hour of Entourage: a little sex, a little drama, and more pathos than 99% of the show’s normal viewers like to see.

But, for a variety of reasons, I found this episode to be shockingly pedestrian in a way that baffles me. There was no zing to the one-liners, no bite to Ari Gold, and a distinct lack of any sort of dynamic between the signature foursome. While I’m actually kind of intrigued to see where they go from here, this half hour is the exact opposite of any of my past experiences: while before I found the plot lacking but enjoyed the show’s broad comedy for what it was, here I found absolutely nothing funny or clever to the point where even a storyline I should have liked did nothing for me.

Call me a hypocrite all you want, but this “Drive” never got out of first gear.

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Late Night Changeover: The Debut of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien

TonightShowConanI don’t feel that I’m really qualified to be “reviewing” the first hour of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.

First of all, I don’t actually watch much Late Night television: I’ll check out the odd monologue, or watch the occasional comedy sketch, but for the most part the focus on interviews has become more and more irrelevant in our information overload culture. My generation just doesn’t watch as much late night comedy, and when we do it’s Stewart/Colbert before it’s Leno/Letterman.

Second, if I did watch Late Night television, it wasn’t The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The show was everything that was wrong with late night: Leno wasn’t actually all that funny, and while he was good at getting the “right” interview for his guests’ promotional needs that isn’t exactly a reason for me to tune in. Considering that I don’t like Leno to begin with, and that he’s ruining NBC’s schedule (that’s all I’ll say on that subject), I can’t really judge this based on whether Conan lives up to Leno’s legacy (which I don’t really respect to begin with, it appears).

And third, I think Conan O’Brien is a hilarious human being, his awkwardness representing a great connecting point for me as a viewer; whether his taste in music, his taste in guests, or more recently his gut-busting comedy he managed during the strike without any writers, Conan has consistently impressed me at every turn. Although certainly not young, Conan has nonetheless been the host who felt most in touch with my generation’s late night needs.

So, really, what am I going to say that I couldn’t tell you before the show airs: I’m going to think Conan is funny, I’m going to think he’s funnier than Letterman, and my lack of nostalgia for Leno’s Tonight Show means I think it’s legacy has actually been more or less saved pop culturally speaking. As a result, it is with all objectivity out the window that I tell you that Conan O’Brien is still Conan O’Brien, the Tonight Show is different than it used to be, and one would hope that this improvement would be reflected in the show’s success.

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