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From Cohan to Conan in One Easy (Soft-Shoe) Step
July 5, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
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Watching the movies Conan O'Brien selected as TCM's guest programmer July 4 was a treat in itself: two James Cagney films, Paddy Chayefsky's classic Network, the Marx Brothers' equally classic Duck Soup. Just as much fun, though, was what he shared about them with TCM host Robert Osborne...

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Cagney's Yankee Doodle Dandy, from 1942, tuns out to be the movie that made impressionable Irish youngster O'Brien want to go into show business. The story of songwriter-impresario George M. Cohan, it made O'Brien crave for a job where he'd smell greasepaint, see people in horse costumes lingering backstage, and play to an audience. His initial work as a TV writer didn't fulfill those fantasies, but getting a talk show did.

Choosing Network was less of a lifelong inspiration than a canny programming move. "I thought Conan O'Brien choosing Network," he admitted to Osborne, "would be an attention-getter."

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He saw the 1976 movie when it was released, but only recently revisited it.

"I was stunned," he said, "by how relevant it still is."

He had high praise for Chayefsky's prediction of the creation of reality TV ("We're really there, right now"), for Faye Dunaway's performance as a ruthless TV programmer ("She's perfect in this role -- and chilling"), and for Peter Finch's role as a raving lunatic of a TV star who becomes a media phenomenon by ranting crazily on his show.

"I've decided I'm going to go that way with my show," he joked.

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Finally, there was Duck Soup, the 1933 Marx Brothers comedy masterpiece, which O'Brien saluted as "the best movie by the best comedians that ever lived." Its secrets, according to O'Brien: its "lack of sentiment," and the fact that its "pace is relentless."

Now that Conan is an employee of TCM sister network TBS, he ought to be given a quarterly TCM special to present his favorite films. He not only has good taste, but good insights...

 

1 Comments

 

R. Orr said:

David-
Now that you're back from Paris - quick question. What did you think of the season finale of The Killing and should we continue to watch it next season? I'm really conflicted and would like your expert critic advise.
Thank you!

[Thanks for asking -- I'll be writing about that, and other recent season finales, early next week. I'd give you more details now, but, given the way The Killing ended, leaving you hanging seems only too appropriate. Arrgh. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 6, 2011 9:13 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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