Hey, so how excited should we be for “Conan,” anyway? Conan O’Brien’s new show premieres tonight on TBS (at 11 p.m.). On the one hand: Conan! On the other hand: It is still, and no matter how many ways it is innovative or different or new it will still always be, some variation of the same.
I’ve read elsewhere (I forget where, exactly) about an interesting subplot to Conan’s return to the airwaves. Conan, before the whole Jay Leno/NBC imbroglio from the early days of 2010, was a rather beloved comic figure to a certain segment of the populace. He was funny, weird and different. But there were large chunks of people who didn’t watch or had no real stake in his success. After NBC badly, badly screwed up what was essentially a personnel move — albeit a public, high-stakes, big-money, image-altering move fraught with eternally negative publicity — he became Conan O’Brien, Hero.
A lot of people out there who are rooting for Conan or followed his online exploits did so after he became a folk hero. Are they the kind of people who will tune in each week to watch him? Will the lingering affection from “Team Coco” last when it’s February and he’s interviewing Snooki and a dude with an iguana that can open a can of beer? In short, will these people watch?
Me, I’m a Conan fan from way back when. Tuned in sometime in the mid-1990s and was hooked. And even with that, I was never and will never be what you would term a regular viewer. When he was leaving “Late Night,” I tuned in for the last few episodes (i.e. I DVR’d them); when he was starting out on “The Tonight Show,” I probably DVR’d and watched for about a week. When he was leaving, I watched the last few weeks with great interest — most of them, except for a few times if I was busy and didn’t get to it, in which case I could watch the highlights online. I will DVR this new show, for a while at least. But I am not the kind of person to religiously watch a late night show. That’s a lot of television, a big time requirement and not something I am prone to doing. I record “The Daily Show” and watch it often, but definitely not every installment. That’s just me. Maybe it’s generational, maybe it’s cultural, I don’t know. But I am the target “Conan” audience — young, in the 18-to-34 demographic, culturally aware, a longtime fan with a strong desire for Conan to succeed — and I don’t know if that target audience tunes into a show every night at 11 p.m. (or watches it the next day after recording it).
But I am still excited for it. I am still rooting for it to succeed, whatever success will be determined by TBS, Conan, the advertisers and the people who carry the network. I’m going to watch at least the first week, and intermittently after that, probably when I remember or am watching TV right then or, much more often, I’ll watch a clip or bit from the show that is sent to me online.
And not that this is a zero-sum either-or game or anything, but Jay Leno is still awful. (Do we have to compare the two now and forever? Only right now, with a new show premiering, does it seem valid.) Not necessarily as a human being (we don’t know exactly the extent to which he was involved in everything last January), because I don’t know him well enough to say that. But as a television host, as a comedic persona, he’s pretty awful. Having him and no Conan made it seem like there was a comedic imbalance. So at least we’re back in a world where Conan O’Brien exists on television.