Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sepinwall on TV: Looking back on 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien'

In today's column, I look back over Conan O'Brien's run as host of "Late Night," which comes to an end tomorrow. Read all the way to the end for a cameo by college-age Alan!

32 comments:

EOTW said...

Alan, I don't know if you have talked about htis or not, but what do you honestly think his chances are at the new time? this isn't a case od someone like Letterman, who was getting to an age where it's natural to lose the hunger. Conan is still young and as much as I respect the guy and think he is funny (though I haven't watched his show in years) his style just doesn't seem right for TTS. But does that matter since, really, Leno is just going to be there every night before him, with TTS vibe to spare?

Tom E said...

Really great piece, Alan. Conan's something special, alright. Do you know if the show is going to pretty much stick with the same format, just at 11:30 instead of 12:30, or are they going to try out some new things after the switch?

Chris the TV Sage said...

EOTW: Conan isn't more than a year younger than Dave was when he went to CBS.

Much as I like Conan and loved his show, I think he's gotten stale over the past few years - no doubt a lot of it the fault of his writers, as we saw when he was awesome during the strike.

Dave's got things sewn up for as long as he chooses to stay around, I'm guessing.

Nicole said...

I think Conan is going get back some of the audience lost when they got out of college and couldn't stay up as late because of work the next day.

Brian said...

I remember having a discussion about Conan and Andy back in 94 with a former co-worker. They were talking about how terrible they were and wouldn't last, and I just kept saying that part of their charm was the knowledge that they were pulling off something everyone thought was impossible. They were like two teenagers who snuck on the set and managed to get on the air without the grownups stopping them.

So glad I ended up being right on that one.

Adam said...

It remains pretty amazing that O'Brien even got the job, and for that, give Lorne Michaels even more credit for his often-magic eye for talent. Thank goodness Dana Carvey turned it down, and Shandling hosting it would have deprived us of too much of the Larry Sanders show.

Now, Jon Stewart in 1993, who did audition ... loved him even back then, but I'm glad things worked out for him anyway.

Sandwich of Ham!! said...

On a somewhat related note, Amazon emailed me this morning to tell me ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE IS FINALLY GOING TO BE RELEASED ON DVD.

Hooray

Andrew said...

Letterman was 46 when he left Late Night on NBC to start the Late Show on CBS. Conan will turn 46 in April. Conan's hosted Late Night for 16 years. Dave hosted Late Night for 11 years.

That he lasted 16 weeks, let along 16 years as host is pretty amazing. (Last time I went to the Museum of Television and Radio, I watched a couple of the first episodes of Late Night with Conan to see if it really was as bad as everyone said it was. And yes, it was.)

I'll be interested to see if and how much Conan's style changes after moving to LA and 11:30.

MCnater said...

Nicole, I totally agree! I've been able to watch less and less since leaving college. Can't wait to see him on in an earlier hour. I was with him since day 1 so it will be like seeing an old friend everyday again. Great piece Alan.

maura said...

He's ready for the next step, and hopefully the promotion doesn't change too much of what's made him great.

Assuming, of course, that the Tonight Show is still the gold standard of late night talk shows, which I'd say hasn't been the case since Carson retired. Is it really a promotion in any way other than the time slot?

Conan is a true comedian. He'll do anything for a laugh, including embarrassing the hell out of himself. At his funniest, he's downright subversive. Just the thought of him preparing to hang himself before his first show makes me laugh.

I think any loss in TTS viewers will be balanced out by fans who previously couldn't stay up that late to watch him, as Nicole suggested.

Great column, Alan.

LeeZy said...

I went to the 10th ever episode of Late Night with Conan in 1993 where he introduced the character Dippy the Hippy... a guy who had this colorful magic box and in it, he could make a bong out of any 3 items... my favorite involved (I believe) a boot, a frog, and a swizzle stick....

Conan is the man... and he deserves his new gig one hundred percent....

J said...

It's a nice write-up, but after Richter left I never got comfortable with Conan the Solo Performer (and especially Conan the Interviewer). The writing can be great. But when it comes to actively wasting television time, there's nothing that could ever top Letterman's "Beat the Clock" (though I'll assume he stole that from Steve Allen or something).

At this point, no one is a better TV Friend than Craig Ferguson.

Bobman said...

At this point, no one is a better TV Friend than Craig Ferguson.

Agreed, I don't think I've ever seen a more personable and honest person on television. And I was always a Conan fan (though now the only time I watch late night TV is when a guest I care about is on).

Andrew said...

At this point, no one is a better TV Friend than Craig Ferguson.

I tend to agree there. If anything, his success is proof against Alan's assertion that it's impossible to have actual conversations on talk shows these days.

SR said...

I think Conan's interview skills are underappreciated. His interviews are intended to be, first and foremost, comedy. You can see him trying to work with his guests to generate as much entertainment value out of their segments as possible, though never at their expense (and frequently at his own). This requires him to really listen and be in the moment with them; as a result, quite often a guest I figured would be dull turns out to be great.

Letterman's style is usually arch and distant (bordering on disinterested) but he can be deep when engaged.

Stewart is at his best with those outside of showbiz - politicians and non-fiction authors especially - and he isn't afraid to have a real debate if he feels his guest is intellectually insincere. His recent interview with Mike Huckabee on the subject of gay marriage was must-see. He's often less interesting when interviewing someone he looks up to.

Colbert is hit or miss. I tend to enjoy him most when the guests don't have an obvious left/right political stance, so he's able to play up the egomania of his persona instead of the right wing talking points. Though his interview with Andrew Young the day after Obama's election was one of my favorite TV moments of last year. And when he lets his guard down he's quite charming, as in his recent interview with Man On Wire's Philippe Petit.

Leno is the least interesting of the bunch to me, as he always seems to play it very safe, usually letting the guest slip frictionlessly into their prepared anecdotes.

I haven't watched enough of Ferguson to have a read on him, though I've enjoyed a few of his monologues. I don't have high hopes for Jimmy Fallon, and the less said about Carson Daly the better.

Anonymous said...

Good to see you are in Pimpbot 5000 fan club Alan!

What ever happened to him, I haven't watched much in recent years but I haven't seen Pimpbot in some time. Did they retire him?

jcpdiesel21 said...

Great column! I watched Late Night whenever I could during high school and college, but always enjoyed it. I haven't watched it in ages, but have been watching all this week to see the highlights from the past 16 years, and they have been great.

I wish I had tuned in to watch Conan during the strike. It sounds like the mundane things that he did were a lot of fun.

Matthew L said...

Since we don't get Conan where I live, the only episode I've ever seen was the Colbert/Stewart/Conan fight - which I had to seek out because there's no way I was missing the punchline after weeks of buildup to that moment. But Conan's strike episodes sound quite fascinating, and I feel like I've missed out by not seeing them.

I was recently listening to an old episode of This American Life (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=80). In one part of the episode, Ira talked with Andy Richter about a then-recent episode where they filled the entire audience with children, and how the whole thing felt like it was going to go out of control at any time. I wish I could see that episode because that sounds funny.

One thing I've always found funny is the idea that in America there is such a big difference between the audience at 11.30pm and 12.30am. Who are these people who are staying up until midnight to watch The Tonight Show but yet need Conan's act to be drastically changed. If he was moving to 8.30pm, of course he would have to make changes. But going from a half-hour after midnight to a half-hour before midnight doesn't seem like a big change, and I don't understand why that is.

Steve B said...

I'm going to agree with the Ferguson-backers here. He really is the most honest and likeable late-night host. I'm 25, and like everyone my age, I was a Conan-freak in high school and college. Now that I have to wake up early, the days when I find myself up for the Ferguson/Conan hour, I almost always gravitate to Craig. His show is more toned-down and I like that right before I go to bed.

It'll be nice to have Conan on earlier. I love Dave, but it will be nice to have a viable alternative when I'm in a wackier mood.

Christopher said...

great article, Alan.

Anonymous said...

You can say "masturbating" in the newspaper?

Garrett said...

The episode with the all-kids audience was amazing. Wasn't there also some kind of financial expert?

What's airing between Conan's final episode and Jimmy's first? It'd be great to see some classic episodes.
(Or, if they want to set the bar low, they can show Conan's first week of episodes like they did with Letterman's before Conan took over.)

Chris the TV Sage said...

Garrett: they're just showing some eps from the past year. Nothing too exciting.

dez said...

Didn't Conan do something like a "German Laser Disco" during the writer's strike? That was so dumb and yet so hilarious that I started DVRing his show again.

Pamela Jaye said...

after reading (but not comments) I decided to see if i could find that first episode

Nicole Marie said...

I've really been enjoying watching the last few weeks of Conan. I started watching again during the strike (a lot easier now thanks to DVR!), and now that they're showing old clips, I'm realizing how many of them I saw when they originally aired and how much I enjoyed them at the time. The ring spinning was awesome too!

I kind of wonder if it'll be Leno that will fail--granted I can't stand him and don't know anything about his ratings, but I don't see why people would watch that against the things that ABC and CBS could play against it?

SJ said...

Conan was at his best during the Writer's Strike. I kinda wish the strike didn't end because it was so hilarious. Conan is at his best when he's spontaneous.

I have been watching this guy consistently for more than 10 years. Love him!

j gillespie said...

Alan- dissing Mike Lupica? Aren't you guys going to be corporate brothers-in-arms soon?

debbie said...

That's funny they *introduced* krunk back in 1993 because it became an all-purpous swear word a couple of years ago. I can't wait for the new time...I might actually get to see it again.

renton said...

Watching the highlight packages this week, he is really underrated for the pieces he tapes out in the field (the bird watchers, the Finland stuff that aired last night).

Letterman used to be great at those, too.

I hope Conan continues to do that stuff in L.A.

(My Captcha is "blarch" -- another great all-purpose swear word)

bill komissaroff said...

Conan ended his last show last night by acknowledging Letterman.

For those of us who, for some reason, care about these type of things, it was a remarkable moment.

Dennis said...

the point about conan being a sketch show first and foremost is the one that rings the most true for me.

Jay's monologue is gold but he's a total suck-up in his interviews and his bits and skits are garbage.

I've stuck with conan for a long time but his monologue is terrible but his interviewing skills are fine and his bits and skits are gold.

Anyway, it's gonna be a world in LA because now he'll get all the big guests and he'll either get guys like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise to open up and show their pensonality or he'll turn into Jay.