In Conan''s 4 1/2-minute opening bit, he runs across the country: Watch and see if you laugh
I have to go off politics just for this one-time opportunity to play TV critic.
Johnny must be turning in his grave. And Jay may already be wondering how long it will take NBC to beg him to take the "Tonight Show" back -- and how much they'll offer him.
I'm a long-time viewer of "Tonight" -- in particular, the first half hour in which Jay and Johnny before him rarely failed to deliver a funny monologue and usually managed something else from among their standard bits worth a few laughs.
So I watched a portion of Conan O'Brien's first two shows. Both times, I had to turn it off before the first half hour was over. I never had the slightest inclination to giggle and the whole thing was not so much boring as senseless. That's it for me.
Now some people must find this guy amusing. (His debut at "Tonight" did receive "mixed reviews," although I suspect that some of the nicer comments were either self-interested or acts of mercy.) I never watched Conan on "Late Night." Too late for me. He seems to have a devoted following from that show, but that could be part of the problem. To turn in reasonable ratings at 1:00 AM, you only need a smallish group of, well, groupies...cultish fans. To make a success of "Tonight," you have to be funny for a much larger audience -- like me, for instance.
Conan's studio audience appears to be packed with his groupies. They whoop and shriek and make other noises like Rebel yells at everything he does and says. But here's the thing: they don't laugh either! After a few minutes of that, it starts to grate.
Conan also has an annoying habit of filling air time with pointless and unfunny banter with his sidekick, Andy Richter, who cackles a lot, presumably to give the impression that someone in the room is laughing. This is reminiscent of David Letterman's repeating the same words and phrases over and over as Paul Shaeffer laughs maniacally and hams it up at his keyboard. Leno and Carson didn't need that kind of crap. They carried the show even in slow moments or in he face of jokes that didn't work on the strength of their personalities, poise, timing, and ability to improvise.
It's a very unusual talent that enabled Johnny to carry "Tonight" for 30 years and Jay another 17. My guess is that Conan will be lucky to take the show into a second season, if he doesn't achieve an unlikely radical transformation. Conan's debut show got strong ratings, but that's to be expected. Barring a major change, the audience will drift to other entertainments; some will move over to Letterman; and ABC will soon sense the opportunity to put someone to go up against "Tonight" seriously for the first time since Joey Bishop went off the air more than 40 years ago.
Then, it's always possible that Jay Leno's new show in the 10 pm time slot will alter audience habits. People who watch a hour of comedy and talk at 10 may not be as interested in seeing more of the same at 11:30, no matter who's hosting.
In any case, sorry, Conan, but your show really sucks. Big time!
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