Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Last Word on Late Night: Who Cares?

Last Friday night, NBC aired the final show of Conan O’Brien’s seven-month, Late Night disaster. In short the show was a 65-minute snapshot of why the self-deprecating redhead failed in the 11:35P.M. time slot.

Conan entered center stage to a studio applause that went on, unnecessarily, for several minutes. His hacky monologue included a bit about all the super-expensive things he was going to spend NBC’s millions on in his final night. His first guest was Tom Hanks, a Hollywood giant, but just plain awkward when asked to deliver an unscripted kind of funny. Neil Young’s musical performance was incredible, but was quickly forgotten when Will Ferrell (as Ronnie Van Zant) high jacked the show for the final 15 minutes, for a karaoke version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” full of bad dancing, cow bells, and Ferrell butt-crack shots, while Conan faded into the background of his own farewell. The show was bad. The whole seven-month run was bad.

At the end of it all I was left with one question: Who Cares?

The fact is the Late Night concept is outdated. Whether it’s Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, or Conan, none of it is relevant or remotely funny. From the studio audience, packed with seventy year olds from Nebraska, to the hacky monologue with lousily-written jokes about Obama, to the terrible bits and pre-rehearsed celebrity interviews, it’s the most antiquated hour left on TV. There was a time when the likes of Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson were important, a time when their late-night shows could curve public opinion, sway the political landscape. America would swallow the crappy humor and endure that guy with the exotic animals to see their favorite celebrities promote new movies, albums, etc. But America doesn’t need to do that anymore. With Twitter, and the Internet, and the nauseating number of reality shows and gossip rags, we have endless access to celebrities. Nobody needs to suffer through Leno’s horrible humor, Conan’s low-budget bits, and Letterman’s stupid Top-Ten List, to watch some scripted interview with Reese Witherspoon about her kids' Halloween costumes, while said host fills in the blanks with dumb jokes. Larry King’s and Howard Stern’s celebrity interviews are a thousand times better anyway. They’re real. And I’m not even going to sound off about the insanely-long commercial breaks that cut up these Late Night shows. Come on Middle America. We’re better than this. Right?

Honestly, this train wreck between Conan and Leno is the only interesting thing to happen in Late Night in the last 17 years, when Letterman jumped ship to CBS after being passed over for that soulless robot Jay Leno. Drama is king because the content is rubbish.

Everybody wants to blame someone or something for this debacle at NBC, but the truth is nobody (and everybody) is to blame. At this point Conan should thank his lucky stars for getting 32.5 million to walk away from this ratings Waterloo. So please: no feeling bad for O’Brien. He’ll pocket that money he didn’t earn, then, in September, get hired at FOX, and start up another 11:35P.M. snoozefest. If you want to, feel bad for the guy working 80 hours a week to keep a roof over his family’s head, while dealing with the never-ending threat of layoff or economic downsize. Feel bad for that guy.

At the end of the day, Leno has chinned his way right back to where he believes he belongs: competing with his tacky, gap-toothed rival David Letterman. So rest easy America. The unfunny battle of overpaid irrelevants, with their prepackaged punchlines, studio bands, and dreadful bits, wages on. Just don’t be fooled. The obsolete format that is Late Night TV slumbers along for one reason only: Money. They are cash cows, so we’re told. But I sure as heck don’t understand why or how. And quite frankly I’m not sure if America’s actually watching this crap or just falling asleep after the local news with the TV on. My God, I hope it’s the latter.

So once again, here’s Dave, or Jay, or Jimmy.
Then again though: Does it really matter?

Brian Huba

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