Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CONAN The Conqueror!

Finally, Conan hath returned to television!

I don't have a lot to say on the matter, per se, other than that I was and am incredibly excited for Conan freaking O'Brien to be back on TV hosting his own late night talk show once again. At this point, the hype around Conan's rise and fall and rise has become the stuff of legend. Really, there was no possible way that his first night on TBS could possibly meet expectations. Think about it - Conan's been a part of some absolutely historic TV these last few years. He wound down a seventeen year run on Late Night, saying goodbye to many a beloved character and supporting cast member along the way. He then took over as the first new host of The Tonight Show since 1993, and all eyes were on him, eager to see how late-night's mad genius would adapt to the broader audience and established traditions of a show that had long been Jay Leno's domain. And then, just as Conan was settling into a decent groove on Tonight, the now-infamous switcheroo debacle went down. Conan got screwed, but for us, Conan's fans, it made for some absolutely riveting, hilarious, and memorable TV. Those last couple of weeks with Conan hosting The Tonight Show were exciting, anything-goes, downright anarchic. Television will never again see anything quite like it.

So, after all that, it was only natural that seeing Conan back and doing just a plain-old talk show - sans any huge drama, epic stakes, or behind-the-scenes intrigue - well, it was going to feel like something of a come-down.

But that's okay. I'm excited to see Conan settle into a new groove, break out some new material, bring back some old favorites, and do what he does best. I fully expect that Conan, ever the perfectionist, will keep on tweaking and refining until things are just right.

My short-list? Would love to see the new set have a little more depth and detail, and for the camera angles to be structured a bit better. The painted look of the backdrop is also a little too hazy - you want a really bold, solid background for a show like this. Overall, the color scheme is good though - I like the darker colors as compared to the too-bright blues of Conan's Tonight Show set. Also, I hope to see a return to more comedy bits like in the Late Night days. I used to look forward to a quick sketch in between guests, for example. And, I hope there's more of that wacky, stagey type of stuff that makes it feel like Conan is presiding over a weird crazy farm where anything can happen and anyone can show up. The absurdist humor that brought us bits like the Walker, Texas Ranger lever would be more than welcome on the new show. One more nitpick: ditch the "Basic Cable Band" name. Basic cable? Sounds like a term from 1992. Come up with something a little catchier, please (Jummy Vivino and the Funky Pickle Band?)!

But really, there's not much need for Conan to poke fun at his new home on cable, even in his usual self-deprecating manner. After all, we found out today that, even on lowly "basic cable," Conan's new show soundly kicked the asses of Leno and Letterman on its premiere night in terms of ratings! This is a world where late night TV is no longer the sole domain of the broadcast nets, where most people are just as likely to be watching CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, or yes, TBS in the post-primetime hours.
I do think it's going to take some time for Conan to sort of psych himself up again for the show. From Day 1 with The Tonight Show, there was that feeling in the air that this was a Conan who had won the keys to the kingdom. Sure, Conan had to feel his way through the new limitations of hosting The Tonight Show, but even when the comedy was still a work in progress, Conan himself seemed excited and up for the challenge. Now though, Conan's been in the role of martyr for several months - and he used that to get himself out of a funk, go on a huge live tour, rally his fans, etc. But, I think it's just going to take a little while for Conan to shake that off and go about business as usual.

Otherwise, I'm confident that Conan will continue to bring the funny with his new show. Remember - he was innovative and hilarious for years and years on Late Night without ever engaging in any sort of controversy or scandal. Conan just refined and tweaked night in and night out, and kept pushing the comedy until he hit upon just the right mix of madcap craziness. There's no reason to think he won't do the same here. And for that reason, I say: welcome back Conan!

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