Late Night: How Conan and Carson Can Become Big Winners

brent johnson looks at the recent late-night problems between Leno, Conan and NBC …

The recent Conan O’Brien saga is sad on many levels.



It’s sad that NBC didn’t give him more than seven months to cultivate an audience that needs time to fully appreciate his blend of random, self-deprecating comedy. Remember: It took him a little while to do the same back in 1993 when he first took over Late Night.

It’s sad that NBC doesn’t value the quality of quirky humor on The Tonight Show that it values on shows like 30 Rock and The Office.

It’s sad that Conan is being treated like hermit crab you take home and aren’t sure you really want, so you test it out for a few months.

It’s sad that NBC is this scared about upsetting Leno, a man whose best moments come during segments where others — not him — are the ones responsible for the laughs (Headlines, Jaywalking). Getting to watch Kevin Eubanks cluelessly chuckle at Jay’s jokes is only mildly amusing — not enough to bring Leno back to 11:35.

But the affiliates win. Does it surprise you?

Last Call With Carson Daly could really benefit from Conan moving to FOX.

Then again, I see two benefits from this whole ordeal — one involving Conan, the other involving Carson Daly. (Yes, Carson Daly.)

If all works out the way it seems to be heading, Conan O’Brien will land on FOX against Leno and Letterman at 11:30. Which I think is a damn good fit.

First, it will be a blast to see all three face off — how the ratings stack up now that late night’s three powers are all on at the same time. Will Jay go back to No. 1? Will Conan lose a large chunk of his audience?

More importantly, it’s likely FOX will let Conan be Conan. As much as it was his dream to sit in the host chair, Conan on The Tonight Show never quite seemed right. It’s almost been like Joe Strummer fronting The Beatles. They’re both great — but maybe not great together.

I doubt FOX will make Conan hold back. Maybe it will revolutionize late night — something FOX has never done. And maybe we’ll see more of the masturbating bear again. My hope is that Conan goes for the throat.

As for Mr. Ex-MTV VJ? Watching Carson Daly host Last Call at 1:35 in the early days was difficult. He lamely tried to perform a monologue. He lamely tried to be a couch-sitting host.

But not too long ago, Carson seemed to remember that he really is just a DJ who became a pop-culture symbol. So he went back to what he does best: music and the zeitgeist. He ditched the talk-show setup and started airing edgy shows about up-and-coming music artists and athletes. He does entire shows from concerts and other remote locations. And in the process, Last Call has actually grown to become a unique, interesting, likable alternative to most late-night programming.

If Conan did agree to NBC’s plan to shift The Tonight Show to midnight, it’s likely Last Call would have died with it. So maybe the world should take this as a wake-up call: Carson Daly’s show is suddenly cool.

1 COMMENT

  1. “It’s almost been like Joe Strummer fronting The Beatles. They’re both great — but maybe not great together.”

    What an excellent analogy.