Mostly for structural technological reasons, this ALDLAND writer doesn’t watch a lot of TV. Like anyone even loosely following popular media and culture over the last few years, though, I’ve seen Conan– primarily on-demand, online, and for reasons unrelated to O’Brien himself– and have some opinion on him that I haven’t enunciated because it didn’t seem worth the effort to put into words that someone else would want to read that Conan really isn’t that funny. His move away from NBC piqued interest in the way that Charlie Sheen’s meltdown did– a spectacle was happening, and the corporate networks were openly trying to figure out how to handle it– but the only real consequence I felt was that the Mighty Max was off daily television.
Grantland’s Andy Greenwald took up the task of writing all of that (even the paragraph above feels like too much) out longhand and nearly long form. Here’s the portion I thought quote-worthy:
But after a week watching The Great Conando pant after nobodies and ding Americans for being overweight, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the lower ratings that should concern TBS. It’s the lowered expectations. By constantly moving the goalposts and pre-apologizing for Conan’s numbers, TBS only reinforces the perception that they’re less interested in the reality of Conan as a talk show than they are in the projected fantasy of it as some sort of web-friendly content farm. (Last week, Vince Vaughn “stopped by” to debut a trailer for his new movie. Yes, the star wattage was nice, but it seemed like an awfully expensive way for TBS to involve itself in something the Internet already does well enough for free, the equivalent of priority-mailing a letter to announce an e-mail you plan on sending in the morning.) Koonin’s hands-off policy and drama-free endorsements (“He’s our Mount Rushmore”) must make for a pleasant change of pace after 17 years among the backstabbing brownshirts at NBC. But it also seems to have stripped O’Brien of his most powerful weapon: his ferocious survival instinct.
Whether he was staving off cancellation rumors with coked-up werewolves or blowing off NBC’s rescheduling plans by blowing their money, O’Brien’s comedy has always worked best when he’s fighting for his life. . . . Now, tasked with little more than delivering a modest number of age-appropriate eyeballs, O’Brien seems both stunted and settled, lavishly rewarded for doing what he loves most for a company that seems to value the end product the least. It’s been well established by now that Conan O’Brien can’t stop. But it seems he’s only transcendent when someone is trying to make him.
Which is a nice way of saying what I wrote above, I think.
I also think that the reason I find myself watching him on youtube (again, for the guests) more than his competitors (that’d be Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon) is because those comedians who seem to be smart (Louie, Norm, Tracy, Will) also seem to really respect Conan, and they seem to elicit honest, non-Guy Smiley reactions from Conan, and those do add to the experience of watching the guest.
Although maybe that’s really just a Norm thing.