I’ve read some things here and there about how this Conan versus Leno thing demonstrates how easily distracted and shallow Americans are today.
No doubt I have had pleasure watching the back and forth between Conan and Leno. So let me explain two reasons why I’m fascinated by this whole thing, attempt to justify my interest, and make some outrageous claims in the process.
And clearly when I write “we” I really mean “me.”
It’s A Generation War
I know it’s a sin to hate, so let me put it this way: If they were animals, they’d be a plague of locusts, devouring everything in their path and leaving but a wasteland. If they were plants, they’d be kudzu, choking off every other living thing with their sheer mass. If they were artists, they’d be abstract expressionists, interested only in the emotions of that moment–not in the lasting result of the creative process. If they were a baseball club, they’d be the Florida Marlins: prefab prima donnas who bought their way to prominence, then disbanded–a temporary association but not a team.
I think that’s how young people view Leno. Maybe it’s because we aren’t that familiar with Leno’s work before the Tonight Show. What we do know is that he likes to write about cars, buy cars, drive cars, and he starred in a lot of Doritos commercials. And then when he got the Tonight Show he coasted for nearly 10 years on OJ jokes.
We know Conan differently. We practically grew up with him. Conan indirectly molded my generation’s sense of humor. He wrote the monorail episode of the Simpsons, one of that shows best episodes. And when he got Late Night he introduced us to characters like Pimpbot 5000, the Masturbating Bear, Preparation H Raymond, The Interrupter, and those siamese twins connected in an unusual way (through one’s butt hole and the other’s penis…and no, they didn’t look alike at all).
This was for us. Meanwhile, Jay was doing Jaywalking and Headlines, relying on the stupidity of others to fill his show. Conan didn’t do that. Conan was the hardest working man on late night television.
Let’s put it this way: Jay has a bit on his 10pm show where he uses Bing. Who the hell uses Bing? Old fogies who stick with Internet Explorer defaults and ask you to fix their computer every Thanksgiving.
The Airwaves Are Becoming Obsolete
I can’t remember the last time I actually sat down and watched the Tonight Show, or even Late Night. I’m under 30, but I can barely stay up past 11:30 on a weeknight. These days if something funny happens on late night TV I catch clips of it within the next few days.
Who watches late night television regularly? My gut says it’s new parents and retired people. But mostly retired people.
Assume this and it’s not surprising that Conan wasn’t doing well at 11:35. He’s a little too far out for them, and he knows it. That’s why he had to change some of the things we loved most about his show before making the move (like encasing the Masturbating Bear in carbonite). He compromised for a time slot occupied by an audience that didn’t want him. They wanted amusing headlines and Kevin Eubanks as a straight man.
How appropriate it is then that those who love Conan and disagree with NBC’s decision protest by changing their Facebook profile pics to the “I’m with Coco!” picture floating around. They don’t get their Conan fix through the airwaves. They get it through their laptops.
It seems to me that NBC giving the 11:35 slot back to Leno was the best business decision. Late night television is not really for people under 40 anymore.
That’s why I watch this Conan thing with interest. It represents culture change. To me it symbolizes the resistance to inevitable change that my generation currently faces and will likely inflict upon future generations when we’re using whatever the equivalent of Bing is in 30-40 years.
Plus, Conan makes me laugh.
I don’t think that’s so shallow.