Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is the New "Conan" Really New?

I like Conan O'Brien.  I missed his show when it was pulled by NBC.  I like his TBS show.  He has a good chance of someday being compared to his idol, Johnny Carson, who had just the right combination of comedy, class, cleverness and attitude.

What I quibble with is the idea that the latest iteration, named "Conan," so "they couldn't replace me so easily," is new.

It's not.  It's the same program O'Brien produced for NBC.  There's a monologue, Andy Richter, the band (minus Max Weinberg) and guests - actors, comedians and a music act to close the show.  Sure, there's a new set with a moon in the sky that moves via remote control [Sigh!], but Conan has not yet unleashed the barrage of hard core, startling humor he has promised interviewers.  On Monday there was a bleeped "SH_T" to which O'Brien exalted, "so glad we're not on NBC anymore."  Geez.

Maybe there's no way to reinvent the wheel and maybe "Conan" is good enough as it is.

The program drew 4.2 million viewers on the first night, a lot by any broadcast or cable standard and a 435% increase over what TBS was drawing in that time slot.

And the show does stand out in the crowd because it's topical and funny without pandering to the least common denominator (Jay) or featuring a septuagenarian masquerading as a college student (Dave).  It's also not heavily political a la Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

I hope "Conan" continues to succeed, but that he finds a way to evolve.  If he wants to become a legend like Carson, he'll change it up a bit and bring something new to the table.  These guys always compare themselves to Johnny and to real trailblazers like Lenny Bruce, but they ultimately find it difficult to get there.  Conan O'Brien is young.  He has a chance.

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