Today is a good day.
That’s a strong statement for a Monday, I know, but I have good reason to make it:
In a few short hours, Conan O’Brien will be back where he belongs, using his God-given talents to once again make late-night TV a little more fun and a little less setup-setup-punchline jokey.
When I posted this the night Jenny and I went to see him in Vegas back in May, it felt like tonight would never come and we’d have to keep watching for cameos on shows like 60 Minutes.
Call me crazy, but that’s not where I prefer to see Coco in action. It’s like stuffing a Bengal tiger in an airplane carry-on designed for cats with names like Mr. Snugglepuss and Admiral Fuzzy Paws and then telling him to act natural. And in a way, I think this dynamic was at play while he was hosting The Tonight Show, as well.
Think about it. Conan is one of the most dynamic and quirkiest comedy voices of the last 10–20 years. He’s someone who built his platform in part on a puppet dog who insults people, a bear with a libido that’s out of control, and guests speculating about the year 2000—even well into the 2000s—while holding flashlights under their chins like they were telling ghost stories.
In short, his brand of humor needs space to run wild. The Tonight Show is not the place to do that. When you take it over, you’re not so much a host as you are a caretaker of a legacy, one belonging to our parents’ and their parents’ generations. Many people in those age groups have never “gotten” Conan the way we have, so in retrospect, I guess I’m not surprised his stint behind Carson’s old desk didn’t work out.
I’m bummed for him that it didn’t, but at the same time, I’m glad we have him back where he can shine. TBS at 11:00—where you can find his new show, Conan—is not NBC at 11:35 and all the baggage that comes with it and The Tonight Show name.
Sure, cable still isn’t as prestigious as broadcast television, and being on TBS places a limit on both the exposure such a show will receive and the profits it can generate.
But even though I’m no TV industry insider—despite what my illustrious, six-month ESPN career might otherwise suggest—I’m betting having a show on TBS will give him more freedom to be Conan again. And there’s something to be said—a big something—for being able to do what you love in an environment where it will be appreciated. Based on what I’ve heard him say, I have to think he would agree.
I can’t help but root for a guy like that.