Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coco's a No-Go? No No!

If you're reading this, it's obvious that you rely on this sparsely-updated blog for all your entertainment and pop culture news. All of it. In other news, there's nothing going on in the entertainment industry beyond the contents of this post. Just to be clear about this.

Getting to the point, it's been just over a couple of weeks now since it was announced that Conan will be making his return in November. Not on Fox as expected, and not even on a network. The internet was jarred by the revelation that Conan will be going to cable - specifically, to TBS. Nobody was expecting that. I've had a lot of mixed feelings about this decision - there's a lot of upsides and downsides - but having had a couple of weeks to process it now, at this point, I'm more excited to have a set time frame in which to look forward to Conan's return than anything else.

At the moment, Conan's touring the US and Canada on his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" tour.  (Not stopping anywhere near here though, unfortunately, so I can't see him.) The tour name is, obviously, making light of his being legally prohibited from appearing on television until sometime in September. Given that there's going to be perhaps a two month or so window between Conan's finally being able to go on television again and the premiere of his new - still presently unnamed - show, it's hard to imagine him not stopping by some of the other network talk shows. Particularly those with hosts who supported him during what he went through at the hands of NBC and Jay Leno. (Letterman, Ferguson, and Kimmel.) It'd make sense to promote his new show before its November premiere, and I'm sure the other hosts would love to have him on to discuss what happened as well as the new show. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a bit of a scramble to book him as soon as he can appear on television again.

Longtime sidekick Andy Richter is on Conan's tour, along with much of the Late Night/Tonight Show staff. Interestingly, Max Weinberg is absent amid rumors that he may become Jay Leno's new Tonight Show Band leader since Kevin Eubanks is leaving after well over a decade of forced laughter. (You'd think he'd have to have been paid exorbitantly well to fake laughs at Jay's non-jokes all these years.) The rest of Conan's usual house band - now called the Legally Prohibited Band for the moment - is on tour with him, however. And as you'd expect James Wormworth's the drummer in place of the absent Max. No one knows for certain what's going to happen with Max yet, let alone whether NBC would give him the freedom to leave and tour with Bruce Springsteen as he had all throughout his years on Conan's Late Night and Tonight Show.

If Max does indeed leave, the former Max Weinberg 7/Tonight Show Band will need a new name. Jimmy Vivino always filled in as band leader when Max toured, so he'd undoubtedly be the new full time band leader. They could go with another Max Weinberg 7-esque name, attaching Vivino himself, or they could always do something more creative, as much freedom as the new show presents for Conan and friends. They could be Los Siete Conando Banditos! (Pardon my complete failure at Spanish grammar - I don't speak the language.) But then, I have no idea if the "Conando" joke name is something NBC owns now that Conan couldn't use again, having lost access to a huge backlog of sketches and comedy writing in severing ties with NBC. Though he could, technically, bring back at least some of these recurring sketches with new names. (Conan's done just that on tour, the Masturbating Bear having come up in the live show. And the Walker, Texas Ranger lever has apparently been part of the live show. It'll be interesting to see what material they are able to bring over.) Even The Interrupter only appeared once on the Tonight Show. And nothing is known about Triumph the Insult Comic Dog yet as well - whether NBC or Robert Smigel owns the character. (Let's hope it's Smigel.) A Spanish name for the band could be amusingly fitting, anyway, since the show's staying in Los Angeles, and they've got a history of Spanish-language humor from Late Night and the Tonight Show with the Conando telenovela sketches they did for years. I have a feeling we'll be seeing those return in some form yet this year.

And given that they're staying in LA for the new show, whatever its name ends up being, it's probably safe to rule out Joel Godard making a surprise return as the announcer. He apparently didn't retire as many speculated, but wasn't asked to come to LA when the move was made for the Tonight Show. It would be nice to see him back, though, with Andy returning to his old sidekick role. I don't think it's been officially confirmed that Andy Richter will be on the new show, but I'm betting it's a given, considering what a big deal it was that he was back as Conan's sidekick and new announcer on the Tonight Show after nearly ten years of not working together. His career outside of his work with Conan didn't exactly go anywhere, appearing in a few movies - few of them any good - and a few shows. Andy Barker, P.I. was fun, and Conan was involved as a co-creator and producer, but Andy doesn't exactly draw much of an audience on his own outside of hardcore Conan fans. Andy Richter Controls the Universe was hilarious, but only lasted a couple of seasons before Fox axed it. And I sat through more episodes of the dire Quintuplets years back, in which Andy only got maybe 2-3 minutes of screentime per episode. I'd like to forget that experience entirely. Andy was pretty much supposed to be set for life - not unlike Conan himself - with the Tonight Show gig. Obviously, that didn't work out as planned.

With Andy likely around again, though, they could get back to even weirder style sketches from the Tonight Show days that they never had a chance to bring back on the Tonight Show. (And in some cases may have been told not to.) We never did see another staring contest again after Andy left save for in one or two guest appearances on Late Night after his departure. That one seemed like it would have been a natural fit for his return, but while Conan's numerous remotes - after a big of a drought of them on Late Night - were appreciable on the Tonight Show, much of the writing felt disappointingly toned down and intentionally restrained by NBC at the earlier hour. A major advantage of Conan's going with TBS is that he will completely own the content he and his writers produce for the show. They'll have the freedom to get as weird as they want, and given that it's been over a year since Late Night ended now, I'm looking forward to a return to that kind of freedom to be strange.

Other positives? For one, he'll be on the same network as Jim Gaffigan, who made a series of hilarious flash animated Pale Force superhero cartoons which he starred in with Conan (They fought crime with their paleness, and Conan was Jim's wimpy, effeminate, high-pitched crybaby sidekick.), so depending on geographical proximity, it's possible we could see further collaboration, or in the least, more appearances on the show, which would always be a good thing. Jim was a fairly frequent guest on Late Night in its last seven or eight years, appearing at least twice a year, but I don't think he appeared on the Tonight Show more than once before NBC decided they'd rather go back to having the chin put the humorless older crowd to sleep instead of actually making the Tonight Show relevant.

The downsides? For one, it's technically a pretty big step down to go cable after 17 years on network TV. Cable programming isn't anywhere near as high profile and respected as network TV. This decision is a big risk that could go either way in the ratings.

Counterpoint - cable TV has been gradually improving its profile, as a number of cable networks have begun to make a name for themselves through backing high quality programming that isn't bound to strict ratings and affiliate needs like network TV. Conan faced a problem with Fox affiliates when exploring the possibility of moving to the network before ultimately ruling it out. Comedy Central has the Daily Show and Colbert Report. FX has It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Rescue Me, amongst others. AMC has Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And these are just a few examples of basic cable networks raising their profile and finally using their strengths to their advantage. Even smaller name premium cable networks have begun trying to compete more actively with Showtime and HBO, like Starz is with shows like Party Down - the first season of which I recently watched. (It's a definite must for fans of Veronica Mars.)

Conan also has the advantage of a massive, active grassroots internet fanbase the likes of which has never been seen for a late night talk show host before. Kimmel and Letterman have never had this. Nor has CraigyFerg, though the Robot Skeleton Army certainly brought him some additional online presence - plus the whole Twitter thing in general. Jay Leno's more vocally reviled than anything else online. And as tech savvy as Jimmy Fallon's been with his Late Night run since day one, between Twitter and Late Night now being half commercial for the latest electronic gadgets at times, he doesn't have the kind of presence or following that Conan does. (It's also kind of funny to think about Fallon trying to take over the Tonight Show after Leno in the future. Kind of makes my head hurt.) There's a lot of factors to be taken into account in Conan's move from network to cable - and he has a following that can easily overcome the usual expected negatives of cable and give him some of the highest cable ratings. Wanda Sykes, George Lopez, and Mo'Nique don't exactly have the kind of following Conan does, at the forefront of the latest wave of late night cable talk shows. And Conan's even bumping Lopez back an hour when the show premieres in November - something Lopez himself has supported after Conan wanted to avoid coming off like Leno in his move to the cable channel.

The toughest part of all this, frankly, is that Conan's new show will be airing at 11 PM eastern. He'll be competing directly with the Daily Show and Colbert Report - that's not an easy base to divide considering the huge crossover between Conan, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert's respective followings. (As they played on wonderfully in their early 2008 writer's strike feud and crossover resolution.) Personally, I'm just glad to have DVR access now.

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