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Conan O'Brien Debuts: Good, But Needs to Be Better (video)

Conan O’Brien debuted his new show “Conan” on “basic cable” otherwise known as TBS last night, with a lot of his old shtick and not a lot new in terms of style or substance. Yet the seeds seem to be there to find a solid niche in late night television.

The show had funny moments and the writing was clever. The cold open was funny! Then again, the show had months to prepare.

Conan brought back a lot of his trademark moves, perhaps in an effort to say his departure from NBC had less to do with the quality of his act, and more to do with internal NBC politicking.
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Conan was at his self-deprecating best, of course.

“That lasted longer than my last job,” he quipped in response to the audience’s lengthy standing ovation.

“People asked me why I named the show Conan. I did it so I’d be harder to replace.”

But where the show failed was its inability to escape the hum-drum late night talk-show format.

The guests were great, Seth Rogan, Lee Michele, The White Stripes — even the nutcracker lady.

Beyond that, however, it was pretty much a rote performance. Conan did his stand up. Guests came. Guests went. Musical act came on, played. End of show.

Maybe Conan wants the sameness. He certainly knows the drill, and whether he is just going through the motions is known only to him.

In the long-run, though, it’s a recipe for late-night obscurity, locked in the back of the pack, by virtue of his exile to “basic cable.”

Yet there is a real opportunity for Conan to re-invent late-night television, in much the same way HBO, Showtime and other cable channels have raised the bar on television comedy and drama with shows like “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “The Wire,” and “The Sopranos.”

Conan has the opportunity to take late night talk television to a new level, and a “basic cable” platform is precisely the place to do it.

O’Brien needs to experiment with the format, try different things, out innovate his competitors. Come up with a better mousetrap, and viewers will beat a path to his door.

Will TBS give him that kind of freedom? Ha… unlikely. But then again.. maybe.

Conan has always tried to be just a little bit “smarter” than Jay Leno and David Letterman. Now here’s his chance to prove it.

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