Those of you following the White Noise blog over the past month may have noticed that I was more than a little obsessed with the launch of the new US late night talk show ‘Conan’. The show launched and I quite liked it as it signalled a return to the sort of show that Conan O’Brien had been doing on Late Night before packing up his things and moving to LA for hosting duties on the Tonight Show. After a few episodes, however, it became quickly apparent that there are a couple of slight corrections the show needs to make Conan Better…Faster…Stronger.
1. Can the monologue
Chat shows that deviate from the format too heavily always seem to fail. I can understand why Conan may be unwilling to deviate too heavily, but the monologue is deadweight on the show. Conan simply doesn’t look natural doing it and his set-up/delivery always feels forced. He’s not a Stand-up by trade and it shows.
Where Conan does feel natural is when he plays with the audience. Why not have Conan come out, recount an anecdote about his day (much like what Letterman does in the second bracket of The Late Show these days), then spend some time talking with the audience. Last Wednesdays shows best moment was Conan discovering a guy in his audience dressed as Harry Potter. It was ridiculous and altogether charming.
The unpredictability of the encounter invigorated the segment and made the show compelling. Shows like this live and die by audiences believing they are going to miss out on something by not watching. This introduces that element of spontaneity where anything can happen. A heavily structured monologue destroys that entirely.
2. Get rid of the second interview
The thinking on the use of two guests is obvious. It doubles the drawcard for viewers each night. This mentality only exists because the shows offer little else content-wise. Instead, the focus should be placed square on the show host Conan, and his sidekick Andy Richter. I tune in each night for the host of a show and the shows flavour. The guests are, and should be, secondary to that.
By getting rid of the second guest, it allows for the show to breathe that little bit more. In its place can be more riffing between Conan and Andy, more audience interaction, and/or another comedy sketch.
3. Introduce some stand-ups on the show and have fewer bands
Does every episode need a musical act? Musical tastes are more diverse these days. I know that I rarely ever watch the last ten minutes of any late night shows, often channel surfing due to a musical act. And sometimes this is even with bands that I like. With late night shows adopting more of a focus on comedy in the past 15-20 years, doesn’t it make more sense to incorporate more stand-up comedians into the show in place of a musician? Allow acts to be discovered through Conan and strengthen the shows brand as a comedy destination.
The best featured guests are always those Conan has a past connection with (Norm Macdonald is a very obvious example). Why not allow Conan to build more of those relationships through his own show?
4. Get Conan out of the Studio
Conan is great with remote pieces. He should be doing them more often. Even if it is just playing about outside in the Studio lot, they need to get Conan away from his stage. The audience know that late night hosts get paid a fortune. As such, the studio feels more like an ivory tower. Its important to get Conan mingling with people outside of his comfortable environment. The best comedy comes from the every day experience.
Getting Conan outside makes him seem like a real person and not an overpaid muppet on the television.
5. Find Conan a touchstone
When Conan hosted Late Night, he worked out of 30 Rock where he had ties to SNL and to the fact he had taken over the show from David Letterman. The show had a sense of history and a connection to New York comedy. In hosting The Tonight Show, Conan suddenly had a direct connection to television comedy history by hosting one of TV’s best known brands.
On TBS, he is left with a connection only to his previous identity as the host of some NBC talk shows. The studio offers no obvious connections to anything. He kind of feels like he’s out in the wilderness somewhere. Unless he carves out an identity pretty quickly by doing something innovative on a nightly basis and connect with the zeitgeist in a similar way as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have, Conan is quickly going to feel like a fairly disposable entity for a lot of viewers. This is not something that can be immediately achieved, but it needs to be considered.
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Now, all of that said. I’m still loving the beard.