Monday, January 11, 2010

No More Late Nights: I'm Tuning Out

*Yep, I'm trying to get back to blogging again...once, maybe twice a week. Quick posts, no more 3,000+ word novellas. Too much time and I can't stay on top of them. (Obviously, since it's been over half a year. I'm embarrassed.) Now, let's get to it...*

Friends, NBC is about to kill late night television.

The ridiculous notion of returning Jay Leno to 11:35p.m., moving Conan to 12:05a.m. and pushing Jimmy Fallon to 1:05a.m. will only help solidify Letterman's recent ratings boost. And, when that fades (probably by first quarter 2011) we will see late night TV take a nosedive. Forever.

I can only imagine CBS execs calling each other like giddy pre-teens: "Did you hear? They pushed Jay back to the Tonight time and smacked Conan to 12:05! OMG! That's stupid, right?!? That's so stupid!...I know, right!...Ha ha, what?...Oh, who cares if Dave and Craig are awful, we're going to make a killing!"

It's clear that the best TV comedy went to cable a long time ago. I wouldn't be surprised if Conan, or even Fallon, follows suit. Conan better if he wants to stay relevant.

It wasn't always like this...these guys used to be incredible...

Growing up, staying up late was cool. It was the coolest. Cooler than Reebok pumps, slap-on wristbands or NKOTB. (If that acronym doesn't ring a bell, imagine the Jonas Brothers/Hanson and Justin Timberlake all rolled into an awkward tween-girl megacraze...that about sums up their impact on girls in my middle school.)

I always wondered what my parents watched on TV when we went to sleep. It HAD to have been awesome...that was my thought process. Of course now I realize that my Dad was writing checks and my Mom was falling asleep on the couch, but back then it seemed like they had the potential to witness amazing things first-hand during the night, while I jealously tried to avoid thinking about schoolwork.

At school, the 'cool' kids (the ones whose parents I would later discover were lazy) used to talk about how funny stuff on TV was late at night. The coolest kids would all retell SNL jokes on Monday and Tuesday. I didn't even know what they were talking about. I saw my first SNL show when I was 17. Ultra-lamo, that's me.

But, far and away the coolest thing about watching TV that late at night was Carson/Leno or Letterman. I don't think the younger generations today could understand their full effect on comedy during that time. Even though TV viewing options were expanding, they still defined 'funny.' They were monsters for the networks and ate up the ratings books. Every comic looked to them to try and get an edge. They drove America's comedy shortbus.

When I finally got 'hip,' I would watch them whenever I could and I would bounce between Leno and Letterman. Honestly, neither of them ever related to me, but I respected what they did and occasionally they were side-splittingly good. But throughout the last few years, the one guy that I could sit and watch night in and night out was Conan O'Brien.

I still remember his first few shows. He was really awkward and his timing, well, it took time. But when he nailed it, he was something to watch. Our college dorm lobbies were packed every night with students fighting over the 'huge' 24-inch TVs...we would fight over Leno/Letterman, but everyone agreed Conan was the best. And he earned his shot at the Tonight Show...

Which makes the current farce at NBC too much to take.

I can't imagine trying to buoy the guys' egos while fretting over a ratings disaster, but to say NBC is mismanaging their late night schedule is akin to saying that Gilbert Arenas may need to take an online course on gun safety.

Up until the past few months I was a guy who would stay up late and surf the late night shows, just as I did as a college kid, to see the guests...try to catch a Conan skit. But not one of these media giants and their staffs could figure out how to stay viable and fresh. Some of Jimmy Kimmel's stuff is great, but it happens so rarely than watching online is a better use of your time. The best stuff Fallon's show ever did was in the webisodes leading up to the show's debut.

And that makes me realize that late night TV is going to fall hard. Letterman's shtick doesn't appeal to the Millenials and Conan is grasping at straws. It may take a few years to get there, but I get the impression that Dave is just trying to wait out Leno. Once Jay fizzes out, Letterman will throw some more barbs at NBC for passing on him and he'll just up and quit. I think he'll do it abruptly, much as he handled his office sex scandal. But, he'll likely go out on his own terms, which is something Jay can not say.

Conan gets the raw deal, but he didn't carry the ratings...he had an incredible run, but he missed his chance. Time and comedy seem to have passed him by, which his shocking given how connected and strong he was just a few short years ago. 'In the Year 2000' and 'Photo Gallery' were must-watch skits that kept you tuned in every night, but Conan's creativity is gone.

NBC isn't doing anyone any favors, except CBS of course. They've abused the Jay/Conan fan bases enough...moving time slots, making their problems public, etc. Those insulted viewers are going to go elsewhere...and I'm starting right now.

I pledge to never watch another live late night show of this ilk ever again. If you haven't been paying attention,, and The Onion are reinventing funny online. And, there's no TV-ratings/language filter...some of it is nasty, but by God most of it is funny.

They're fresh, they're occasionally insightful (okay, very occasionally) and they're hilarious. And, they aren't embarrassing themselves nightly.

Hey, late night! You are dead to me.

I'm going online.

Now, who's coming with me?


Anonymous said...

And now, there's this:

A.J. said...

The failure of Conan and Jay in there new time slots seems like less of an indictment on their comedic ability as opposed to another casualty of the complete saturation of media choices. Leno and Letterman were not only popular, but more importantly, they were around before the vicious competition from cable and the internet really kicked in.

NBC failed to see that the older fan base that had loyally supported Leno would not blindly follow Conan, and while I too always enjoyed Conan more than the other late night personalities, he just hasn’t doesn’t have the personality to cover every demographic. Of course that didn’t used to be a problem when the only two valid choices were between Letterman and Leno, who just happened to be very similar.

NBC’s expectations were too high for him, the market is unendingly segmented now for the reasons you just laid out in your blog. NBC and CBS had a hold on the market because they had icons who marked their territory before all the “other options” were made available to us as media consumers. That day is over, and now all the Leno fans who left when Conan arrived have been forced to explore the plethora of other options. NBC won’t get most of them back no matter what they do. The same goes for CBS when Letterman leaves.

I would say who isn’t with you? At this point he minority stands with people who choose the traditional late night options.