Feb 16 2011

The Late Night Rundown – Conan O’Brien

Back in the 70’s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

The same night Jay Leno had his fifth anniversary special, whatever night that was, sometime in 1997 or 1998 I think, I stayed up and watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien for the first time.  I don’t know why I was watching late night TV, I imagine being bored had a lot to do with it.  Needless to say, even at age 11, I found Conan immensely funnier/smarter than Jay, and I became a member of Team Coco long before the term existed.

For the rest of these posts, with the exception of Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert, I am going to have to do some research i.e. I am going to make myself sit through a week of late night shows I otherwise would never watch.  Leno is one of them, as is Carson Daly, Chelsea Handler, and Conan’s current follow-up, George Lopez.  But I am already an avid Conan watcher and have been for many years, before his move to the Tonight Show, the shakeup resulting from that move, and his transfer to TBS.

Over the years, Conan’s entire show has made a gradual transformation from shy funnyman telling jokes and gags behind a desk to a bearded lanky veteran interacting with his audience and being sharper in his improvisation.  Of course, mainly because of his stature and appearance, the physical comedy has always been there, something you either love or hate.  His trademark “string dance” has become synonymous with the image of Conan, as has the red pompadour on his head and now, that shaggy beard he grew and kept after being fired from NBC.

Conan has a writing background, so the rehearsed bits are his strong suit, while the ad-lib banter with hit-or-miss sidekick Andy Richter (who has lost his luster since departing from Late Night and then returning for the Tonight Show) is usually spotty.  The interviews are often pretty awkward, he is not as comfortable with his guests as other hosts on the tube, such as Ferguson and Fallon, who are more conversational.

On Late Night, Conan was fresh and in his element, delivering a very weird brand of humor to a dedicated fan base, who has never really left.  His Tonight Show, admittedly, was fairly unwatchable, minus the final two weeks, where he not-so-subtly gave NBC the finger on their own network.  Conan’s transformation to 11:35 changed his brand of comedy, and he is not as sharp as we was a few years ago.  Still, with creative control of his show and no network execs telling him to “broaden” his show for a wider audience (now he is on cable performing for his true fans every night), Conan is free to roam, and roam he does.  He and executive producer Jeff Ross have found new ways to deliver comedy with a limited budget; Conan spends more time poking fun at his studio audience and breaking the fourth wall in rehearsed sketches.

Also, Conan’s reach spreads to the Web, where his production company is in full charge of the content of his show, and Conan is in command of his Twitter account.  O’Brien, who continues to be a top player in the key demographic for TV (ages 18-49), continues even on cable to be a worthy 21st century late night competitor with a very passionate following, and he shows no signs of stopping.

Feb 11 2011

Recommended Reading 2/11/11 – The War For Late Night

The War For Late Night, Bill Carter’s journalistic expose on the latest debacle in late night television, is surprisingly riveting.  Carter, of course, wrote the book for the first big go-around back in the 90’s, the bestseller Late Shift, which was made into a pretty awesome HBO movie.  That first book gave an inside perspective on the events dealing with the Tonight Show “scandal” between David Letterman, who lost out and moved to CBS, and Jay Leno, who ended up the “king of late night,” depending on who you ask.

The new book is even better, particularly because the story is juicier this time around.  Conan gets the Tonight Show promised to him, Jay is moved to prime time out of fear he won’t “retire” as promised and move to ABC – the ratings for both programs drop dramatically.  NBC proposes moving Jay back to 11:35 and Tonight to 12:05; Conan refuses out of respect for the flagship program and moves to TBS.  Meanwhile, the drama unfolds in front of millions on television, and Letterman, Kimmel, Ferguson, and the rest take it all in, but not without cracking jokes about it.

That’s the main focus, of course, and it seems like Carter talked to EVERYBODY about it, from insiders to the stars themselves.  Deep knowledge is made known about Team Jay, Team Conan, Team Dave, and the executives at the major networks.  Not to mention the book contains a vast amount of info on other late night stars not necessarily involved in the main plot, but interesting nevertheless (Stewart, Colbert, Fallon, et al.)  We learn alot about the late night/television business through the eyes of the entertainment, producers, presidents, everybody, and Carter remains objective throughout.  A fantastic read, I wasn’t able to put it down.

Dec 30 2010

Top 10 TV Shows of 2010

This list is more comprehensive and accurate than yesterday’s Top 5 Movies list – needless to say, I am a big fan of appointment television.  So without further ado, here are my picks for this year’s best TV shows.

10. How I Met Your Mother

9. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Watch Lethal Weapon 5 here. You’ll be glad you did.

8. Modern Family

7. Conan

6. The Walking Dead

5. Community

4. Boardwalk Empire

3. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
A Look Back – October 2010
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

2. Mad Men

1. Breaking Bad

Dec 21 2010

Paragraph Reviews 12/21/10

Music, Movies, Television, etc. Pop culture reviews for the short-attention-span Internet age.

Boardwalk Empire – Season 1

Since major plot points are more or less developed thanks to American history, the real joy of Boardwalk Empire is subtle character development.  Buscemi leads a stellar supporting cast throughout 1920’s Atlantic City, at the beginning of the passage of Prohibition and the dawn of woman suffrage.  The slow transformation of Nucky Thompson from a shady politician to a full-on killer is made slowly and surely, just as Jimmy predicted in the pilot it would.  Meanwhile, characters like Agent Van Alden and Margaret Schroeder and their subtle mutations into insanity and independence, respectively, make this show evenly paced and yet captivating week by week.  And the violence is pretty awesome too.

Rating: 8

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Dec 10 2010

Paragraph Reviews 12/10/10

Music, Movies, Television, etc. Pop culture reviews for the short-attention-span Internet age.

Love and Other Drugs

Watch the two-minute green band trailer and you know exactly how this movie goes, more or less.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway fall in love, separate, and get back together again.  Welcome to the standard rom-com formula, unchanged since the beginning of time.  That’s not to say the movie isn’t enjoyable (up until the trite ending, which everyone sees a mile away); there is great chemistry between Gyllenhaal’s take on a career-minded, smart-ass, sweet-talking med salesman and Hathaway’s sarcastic, quasi-misanthropic, surprisingly charming twenty-something with Parkinson’s.  Add a dash of breasts, a ton of male ass, and many many boner jokes (the character is selling Viagra, after all), and you’ve got a decent date movie, even if the first third (which is mainly focused on career moves and less on romance) is more interesting than the eye-roll-worthy rest.

Rating: 6

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Nov 10 2010

Best Conan O’Brien Moments

It seems like it’s taken forever, but Coco has returned to television in the form of a basic cable late night talk show almost identical to the ones he hosted previously.  While the reviews have been mixed thus far and Conan’s ego is overshadowing the humor currently, I look forward to an edgier O’Brien once he gets cozy on TBS.  In the meantime, here are a few moments from the best current late night host, mostly from his 17 year stint on Late Night, but a bit from his nine month Tonight Show gig.

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Sep 21 2010

At A Glance: Boardwalk Empire

The pilot of HBO’s new series, a riveting portrayal of gangster-ridden America during the Prohibition era, certainly feels very Scorsese, and you could sense that without knowing he directed the episode and is an executive producer along with A-lister Mark Wahlberg. The introduction to our main “protagonists” is very convincing, leaving room for more development, but ultimately quickly exposing our heroes for what they really are – corrupted people in power seeking to make it rich by selling bootleg alcohol.

The most likable quickly become abrasive and violent, but not without their soft sides (Steve Buscemi’s remarkable, brilliant portrayal of “Nucky” Thompson, based on Enoch Johnson, is rapidly ruthless, but also charitable). Scorsese’s vision is seen throughout and will remain for future episodes, and it’s a perfect mood that Marty has mastered – telling the darkest tales of our history under his watchful eye. Boardwalk Empire is one to look out for next awards season.

Boardwalk Empire airs Sundays on HBO.

Sep 17 2010

A Rally Worth Attending

In an obvious parody of Glenn Beck’s recent media-whore marathon on the Mall in DC, Jon Stewart announced his plans for the Rally to Restore Sanity, happening at the same location October 30.  Stewart proclaimed the rally is for those who are too busy and rational (you know, the majority of Americans) to yell loudly and irrationally in front of cameras and behind lecterns. He declared we will all gather, as one movement, to voice our support for those with microphones to “take it down a notch for America.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Not to be outdone (but obviously part of the event in his own special fear-mongering, pundit-satirizing way), Stephen Colbert announced his “disapproval” of his “warm-up act’s” battle cry and made his own big announcement: the March to Keep Fear Alive, happening at the same place at the same time as Stewart’s.  Whether you’re a rational, free-thinking Daily Show fan, or part of the fearless (yet also clearly rational) Colbert Nation, the event is sure to be fun, entertaining, and maybe even poignant, if those in the media and in power will listen to what these straight-talking comedians have to say.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
March to Keep Fear Alive
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

And, in case you were wondering, yes, I plan on attending. My sis and I are booking flights to DC ASAP and we hope to see you there! Years from now, when my children study about this time in American history, when they learn of the ridiculous rhetoric and the legendary comedy it spawned, when they discover the crazed talking heads and the hilarious detractors (who would grow to become TV comedy legends) I want to be able to tell them, “Yes, my children, I attended that rally. You know, the good one.”

Sep 11 2010

Five Things Wrong With The Current Pop Culture World

Perhaps it’s my jaded cynical old age catching up with me, but lately I have been exposed to some things in the pop culture world that really irk me. And as a form of self-therapy, I’d like to share them with you today.

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Sep 10 2010

The Internet Is A Crazy Place

Just a few fun things (read: memes) I found on the Web:

Girl Talk provides the soundtrack to this video featuring ten minutes of animated gifs. A complete time-waster.

Cache Rules Everything Around Me from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

In Mad Men news: Pete Campbell’s Bitch Face

And also: Sad Don Draper.

This might be the funniest Between Two Ferns ever. Sorry Zach, Seth is way better.

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