Welcome to issue 10 of the Weekly Tendown, your overview of the best cultural happenings of the past seven days; Last Week, I discussed Better off Ted, strategic defaults, Goodluck Jonathan, and the return of the Hit Man, Bret Hart. What....what do you suppose we'll talk about this week...
First: I'm With Coco
I'm not going to run counter to conventional hipster wisdom on Late Night Wars the Sequel. It's been a blast and should remain so at least for the next week before NBC pays Conan to go away; its reductionist, but I could probably be well defined by the following: I really enjoy it when things happen; except when they're happening to me. I'm about a decade, hell maybe two, too old - I swallow whole as much up to the minute information as I can get and let the newsy juices drip down my chin; I am well constituted for a universe in which my pants vibrate whenever AP has a breaking story.
All of the late night shows felt like must see television last week, A couple of dozen clips are here. ('cept for Letterman, who isn't on Hulu, and that's too bad as his stuff has been excellent) and thats largely why this merits the top spot on the Tendown; as I've said before I like my television unpredictable (which is the main reason why the old Letterman show worked, it felt jagged) and from Letterman calling Jay "big jaw" to Leno responding with intern blasts to Conan foresquarely saying he's been screwed by Leno and NBC to Kimmel (in the single best spot of the week) burying Jay on Leno's own show - it was a good week.
On the merits - your job doesn't love you is the takeaway from this. Five years ago Conan's deal was up and NBC kept him around by promising him Johnny's old show (and that's...that's the comedy takeaway from this - the thing you have to dig to find is from that letter Conan wrote this week, Conan wrote he wouldn't take part in the "destruction" of The Tonight Show - ostensibly what he was referring to was the proposal to move it to midnight after Jay went on at 11:30 - but really he was saying what comics have said about Jay for years - that Jay destroyed the Tonight Show; Jay Leno used to be funny but gave that up to pander for ratings - and despite what Triple H would have you believe, the guy with the most eyeballs on him isn't necessarily a critical success; Home Improvement and Two and a Half Men did very well commercially, but at no point did anyone outside of the production of those shows think of them as anything but pablum - we understand that the American public's artistic palate can run dumb, so dumb is what we are fed. But Johnny's show "mattered" in that way that institutions sometimes do, which is why all the sturm and drang when Dave got moved aside in favor of Jay 17 years ago. And now it barely matters at all, which is one of the reasons for the anger in some of blowback Jay's faced this week; Rosie O'Donnell on her radio show talked about being angry at Leno since '95; Patton Oswald compared Jay to Nixon on a podcast. Conan doesn't just want the 11:30 slot - he wants the Tonight Show, and when he says he won't take part in its destruction, he's saying the Tonight Show as a comedy brand has been devalued by Leno even with its financial success) and when the time came to do that, instead of sending Jay on his way, NBC decided to stick him at 10:00.
That cut Conan off at that knees, both ensuring a low rated lead in for local news (NBC knew Leno would lose badly at 10, but it was a cheap enough show to produce that it made some financial sense) which would mean a low rated lead in for Conan - but also it meant that Conan was still positioned as the number two show behind Leno. And if The Tonight Show is the number two show on NBC, it's not really the Tonight Show anymore.
Conan's spent the past 17 years working at a company that, this week, has an executive call him "chicken hearted and gutless". If you're Conan, and you feel as if you've been a good company man for 17 years - earning critical acclaim and youth buzz, single handedly keeping NBC late night culturally relevant when Leno was effectively hosting CSI: The Tonight Show, staying in that 12:30 spot for five extra years with the promise of The Tonight Show, not publically complaining when your company paired your move to 11:30 with the extraordinarily destructive decision to move Leno to 10 - to now have an executive, on the record with the New York Times say that you're the failure - that you're the one who couldn't deliver when called upon - the takeaway from that has to be your job will never love you. It will pay you (and Conan's gonna get paid) but it won't love you.
The rest of the Tendown after the jump.