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Ready for Some Late-Night Coco? For Conan O'Brien, Third Time's the Real Test
November 8, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment
conanbeardtwitter.jpgMonday night at 11 ET, with the premiere of Conan, Conan O'Brien steps into the spotlight of a TV talk show for the third time. And whether or not this time's the charm, it is, for the first time, the one where we'll see him at his most undiluted...

It's not that O'Brien, in his previous incarnations, lacked conviction or wit. I was at the NBC press conference where Conan O'Brien first met the press in 1993, introduced as David Letterman's successor on Late Night. The first volley from reporters questioned the wisdom of selecting a relative unknown as Letterman's replacement -- a question to which O'Brien took umbrage.

"I am a COMPLETE unknown," he insisted -- and that's when I knew I liked the guy.

His first talk show experience, on Late Night, had O'Brien starting from scratch, and working from instinct -- finding, just as Letterman had before him, what elements of this particular genre of television were worth preserving, jettisoning, ridiculing and mutating. For Letterman, that quest led to Larry "Bud" Melman and Chris Elliott. For O'Brien, it was Andy Richter, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and the Masturbating Bear.

The first time out, O'Brien's primary goal, at first, was to survive. The second time out, when he got The Tonight Show briefly, he adapted his tone in hopes of widening his audience. He didn't succeed, NBC gave The Tonight Show back to Jay Leno, and here we are.

But on TBS, expectations are not to match and carry on the half-century tradition of The Tonight Show, as in Talk Show #2. They're not to introduce him as a comic voice, as in Talk Show #1. This is Conan O'Brien's Talk Show #3. And this time, I suspect, he's listening to few people but himself, which could well make this his best show ever.

Most popular? That's another question entirely, and the answer, almost definitely, is no. Against so many late-night viewers vying for similar audiences -- not only broadcast TV's Jay and Dave, but also cable's Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Chelsea Handler -- O'Brien's audience is likely to be small tonight, smaller tomorrow, and level out as smaller still by the end of the week.

But the level found, eventually, will be the audience upon whom Conan O'Brien can rely night after night, and vice versa. I don't expect Conan, in this fragmented and increasingly competitive TV universe, to match his audience levels for either of his NBC shows.

I do, however, expect him to match those shows in creative quality. All he's got to do is preside over a TV show that's half as funny as his Twitter dispatches, and Conan will be a pleasure to watch.




Danny said:


Conan's press conference was 1993, not 1983. [You're right. And now that I've fixed it, so am I. Sloppy typing. Thanks! -- David B.]

Comment posted on November 8, 2010 10:35 AM

Eileen said:

I've always been a Letterman fan, but I certainly wish Conan well. He seems like a really down-to-earth, decent guy. NBC did him no favors -- or maybe they did. We'll have to wait and see.

Even though Letterman was pretty tame during the whole Leno-Conan-NBC fiasco, he had a video one night called "Law & Order: Leno Victims Unit". It was done to the L&O theme, and looked like an actual promo. My favorite casting was Ice T as Carson Daly. It was pretty evident at the time that Letterman was a member of "Team Coco". And why not, as he was treated miserably by NBC.

It will be interesting, with all the late night venues, to see how the ratings fare. I hope Conan sticks it to NBC.

Comment posted on November 8, 2010 4:18 PM

Mac said:

I wouldn't say Coco didn't succeed at Leno's spot. Those few months in the lifespan of a late night talk show are almost pilot episodes. And O'Brian probably had demos that Leno will never get back. The real factor in all of this is Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert,who have demos to die for:young people,many with degrees, that think and actually watch the show almost drug free,many of which either have a decent job in this rotten economy or have parents able to fund(at least partially) them through college. In any event, it's fairly well-off eyeballs that watch Comedy Central at that time slot. And,the real loser in all of this is George Lopez. Not now,but soon. The drop off from Conan to George will be dramatic and a later time ain't gonna help George. Even a little dirty,he's still boring.

Comment posted on November 8, 2010 7:39 PM
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