Why We're on Team Conan O'Brien
By Mike Hess Posted Jan 11th 2010 08:30AM
PopEater Op-Ed: Conan O'Brien's 2010 is starting off like a kick to the crotch. The brilliant and good-natured comedian who last year moved everything -- his family, his staff -- to Los Angeles to take over Jay Leno's reign of the 'Tonight Show' is now sitting in late-night limbo, and it's all because of the man who it seemed was handing over the keys to a long, successful gig. But instead of passing the torch, Leno buried a grenade in the NBC infrastructure, and now everyone else except Jay is taking shrapnel for it. PopEater is fully endorsing Conan for all future ventures, and we'll gladly explain in detail why ... after the jump.
When word came that Leno was backing away from 'Tonight,' it seemed as though it would be a clean transition for Conan to finally get his starring vehicle that didn't demand people staying up past midnight. He'd be NBC's man, going head-to-head with David Letterman each night, just like Jay had done for decades. Then, randomly and ultimately irresponsibly (hey, he threw the entire network schedule into disarray), Leno decided retirement wasn't what he wanted, and barged into NBC's 10 p.m. time slot, screwing over Conan, prime-time television shows and local NBC affiliates. Many celebrities had loyalties and relationships with Leno, turning the landscape into a tense duel over potential guests. Also, by bouncing earlier to 10 p.m., Leno got the jump on the day's joke fodder in his monologue, leaving Conan to play clean-up later in the night.
O'Brien is generally the smartest guy in the room -- or on television. The Harvard-educated former 'Simpsons' writer is always able to convey his wit in countless ways on his show. Sometimes it's conceptual and ridiculous (see: In the year 2000), sometimes it's lowbrow and idiotic (see: masturbating bear) -- but it's always in good fun and never mean-spirited. Leno, on the other hand, has always had a heavy hand when it comes to making those around him seem lesser. Making people look dumber than him became Jay's schtick over the years -- be it tourists on the street or the 'Jersey Shore' kids. Jay's brand of entertainment was to make Jay look smart and others look dumb. Everyone knows that when you overcompensate, you become easily transparent. Conan doesn't need to resort to antagonizing and "Ha ha, you didn't know that answer" antics because that's low-hanging fruit -- and it's hard to find anyone smarter than him anyway.
Conan essentially altered his entire life to take over 'The Tonight Show.' He left his comfortable New York City life, digs and reputation for Los Angeles, and was repaid with Jay undermining him right off the bat. To boot, now his ultimate reward is not only being initially sabotaged but also muscled out in the long run because the man who screwed everything up has so much clout he's now rewarding himself with his old time slot. Sadly, that's how things go more and more nowadays: Failures and incompetence are overlooked and sometimes rewarded, because loyalty and smooth talking are the only things that matter.
To quote a New York Post source, "this level of sh- - -iness was not expected."
Many will say that Conan just doesn't have the everyman appeal needed to lure in viewers each and every night at 11:30. And while, yes, his show did maintain a certain edge when it was at 12:30, Conan's accessibility has never been in question. He hosted the Emmys in 2006 and won rave reviews, and also has the respect of nearly all his peers. David Letterman, who was O'Brien's direct competitor at 11:30 before Leno's coup, called him "a very funny guy" in 2008, and anyone who knows the oft-grouchy Letterman knows that compliments don't come easy.
Conan, we wish you all the best, and know you'll land on your feet. Perhaps cable TV is your best vehicle at this point. Imagine the creative freedom HBO would give you. So, take this time to regroup, plot your next non-NBC move, and rest-assured that many of us will be thinking of you when Jay slinks back into that 11:30 time slot and has to explain where the funny guy went.
Conan O'Brien Snapshots
Conan O'Brien is seen here in December at Disney's Imagination Movers in Los Angeles. Click for More Pics of Conan and His Show >>>
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