The New TV

How I watch TV – my laptop hooked up to the flatscreen

There’s an article in today’s New York Times about how Conan O’Brien’s millions of young fans never really tuned in to his show. Conan’s ratings among 18-34-year-olds were higher than David Letterman’s, but lower than the Colbert Report’s and, amazingly, Jay Leno’s when he hosted the Tonight Show.

According to the article, young people – especially young men – “don’t watch television regularly”, and when they do watch late night TV they are more likely to watch ESPN, Adult Swim, or Comedy Central. Young men are also more likely to play video games or use DVR recorders, which kept them from watching Conan’s show while it was on.

I have to admit that this article pretty much describes the way I, a 23-year-old male Conan fan, watch TV. The only episode of Conan’s Tonight Show I watched on cable was the finale, and the only reason I watched that was because I happened to be hanging out with friends who wanted to see it right then. Otherwise I would have watched it on hulu like I always do.

If Conan’s finale had been only a few days earlier, in fact, I couldn’t have watched it on cable at all, because we only got cable installed in our apartment about a week ago, after living here for almost six months.

It’s not that I don’t like TV. I’m not one of those guys who brags about not being addicted to the “idiot box.” I like The Office, South Park, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia enough to watch every new episode – online. Every once in a while, I watch The Colbert Report and The Daily Show on hulu. When I visit my parents in the suburbs, I watch whatever new episodes there are of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bored to Death and Hung on HBO on Demand. I own DVDs of Seinfeld and the Simpsons that I watch pretty regularly. I have downloaded many episodes of the Sopranos on Itunes.

After reading that Times article, I realized that the Tonight Show is the only TV show whose airtime I know, and the only reason I know that is because it’s been on at that time for about half a century. I don’t even remember for sure when The Office and South Park air (is it 8 o’clock Thursdays, 9 o’clock Wednesdays?).

What’s the point of watching a show live on cable if you can watch it for free on the internet? When my friends and I were watching the Conan finale, we remarked on how loud and stupid commercials are. It’s almost insulting. We made fun of them for the first few commercial breaks, and then we muted the TV when they came on. When I used to watch Conan on Hulu I only had to watch a few 30- or 60-second ads that seemed much less obnoxious than the ones that were on last Friday.

A possible downside of watching TV shows on the internet is the small size of computer monitors. This hasn’t been a problem for me since I bought a few cords at Best Buy that allow me to connect my computer to our flat screen TV. They cost forty or fifty bucks total, but they’re worth it.

I was going to write that television will go through some big changes soon, but it already has. If Conan had started hosting the Tonight Show in 2004, his young fans would have had to watch his show while it was on cable instead of recording it or watching it online. His ratings wouldn’t have been so low and we wouldn’t all be gossiping about the Leno/Conan feud all the time.

I wonder if the whole concept of a TV show suited to a particular time, like the Tonight Show, is kaput. We’re all busy, and there’s usually something we’d rather be doing than watch what happens to be on cable at the moment. Plus, we hate those stupid commercials.

The Tonight Show, Carson, and Conan

I heartily agree with Richard’s post on CoCo and The Tonight Show.

I think Jay Leno is pretty much unfunny.  He was a lame successor to Johnny Carson, and I think when he took over The Tonight Show he tarnished the brand of that show.  It used to be “must see” TV for anyone staying up after 11:30 on a weeknight.  You would watch Carson’s monologue, see who he had on as guests that night, and probably stay tuned until at least midnight.

Carson was one of the five most classic TV personalities of all time.  Indeed, he was one of the few TV figures of my youth who probably would still be tremendously popular today.  Unlike many of the stars of the early days of television, Carson was not active, but reactive.  He might occasionally get a pie in the face, but for the most part Carson’s humor was laid back and responsive.  The great laughs on The Tonight Show were typically due to Carson’s priceless reactions to a bad monologue joke, to a bird perching on his head and taking a dump, to Ed Ames inadvertently hurling a tomahawk into some outlined figure’s crotch, or to George Gobel unwittingly getting ashes flicked into his drink by a lubed-up Dean Martin.

Leno is different.  He is more like a vaudeville comic who mugs for the camera.  He doesn’t have the sly, sardonic reactions that made Carson so well-suited to the TV medium.  Conan O’Brien, in contrast, does have that quality.  He is comfortable behind the host’s desk, and is willing to let his guest be funny or interesting, without intruding.  Conan is a “cool” figure, is great at reaction, and clearly is more consistently funny than Leno.

I’m not surprised that Leno’s prime time show was a dismal failure, and I think it is criminal that NBC is going to push The Tonight Show back to give Leno some late-night time.  I say:  “I’m with CoCo!  Give him a chance!”

I’m With Coco

Back in college, when someone made a lame joke, my friends and I would say “you should write for Jay Leno.” We always thought of Conan O’Brien as the antithesis of Leno’s cute, unfunny, middle-of-the-road humor.

It’s too bad NBC didn’t give Conan’s new show much of a chance. It usually takes Tonight Show hosts a while to settle in – supposedly it did with Conan when he started in ‘93, as well as with Jay Leno. Sure, Conan’s new show was a bit awkward at times. He and Andy Richter never got comfortable enough in their positions to have the banter they should have had. But the show was still really good, much better than anything Leno ever did. Maybe Conan just doesn’t have Leno’s mass appeal, which might be a good thing.

In the statement he released today, Conan says he will not go along with NBC’s plans to have his Tonight Show start at 12:05 because it would “seriously damage” the “greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.” That’s another tragic part of NBC’s planned switch. A show that has entertained America and contributed to its culture for 60 years will more or less disappear.

If he is forced out of the show, and it looks like he will be, I hope Conan finds something to do that is worthy of his talent and intelligence.

Some of my favorite moments from Conan O’Brien’s show, off the top of my head:

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s visit to the premiere of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Triumph asks a pregnant woman in Star Wars regalia if it’s a girl or a boy. She says it’s a boy. Triumph asks when she’s due. She says in a few months or so. Triumph says, “that will be the last time he sees a woman’s vagina.”

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog chats with the members of Bon Jovi before their concert. He says to Jon Bon Jovi, “I heard you’re playing a vampire in a movie coming out soon.” Jon Bon Jovi confirms this. Triumph says, “finally, a role which requires for you to suck!”

Conan checks out a 19th-century style baseball game reenactment. He ends up wearing an old-style uniform and a handlebar mustache and almost gets into a fight with the “hurler” (a.k.a., pitcher). When a plane flies overhead, he freaks out, yelling “ho, what is that devilry?”

Conan tricks Andy Richter into walking on the set of the Today Show naked. Staged, of course.