Nothing Up My Sleeve

Jon Gallagher

A Prediction or two…


I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction, this time BEFORE something happens.  Here we go.

February 25, 2010 through March 7, 2010 will see a significant spike in the number of births at area hospitals, as well as nationally.

It’s not really that gutsy of a prediction.  See, Conan O’Brien is taking over the Tonight Show reigns on June 1 which is exactly nine months prior to my prediction above. 


By the time you read this, Conan will have been on the job for a while.  I’ve yet to see the show.  That’s mainly because I’m writing this about  two weeks in advance of his first show.

It’s kind of hard to watch something that hasn’t aired yet.  However, I don’t think it will be that hard to write about.

I’ve never been a big fan of Conan.  He seems to be a brilliant writer, but as a comedian, his timing is awful and most of his jokes fall flat.  Even he’s aware of this and sometimes his reaction is painful to watch.  I think HE thinks his reactions are funny.  That may be part of the problem.

I’m familiar with Conan because for the past several years, he’s come on right after the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  It’s almost by accident that it’s on at our house.

By 10:30 PM, I’m the only one up.  My wife heads for bed right after watching the 10:00 News on channel 25, WEEK, which is an NBC station.  After she heads upstairs, I head into the next room to write.  I leave the TV on for noise.  That’s why I “watch” Jay Leno instead of John Ring, er ah, David Letterman.  I’m too lazy to change the channel.

If for some reason we watch the Channel 31 news, then I “watch” Letterman.  If we’ve watched Channel 19, then I “watch” whoever they have on at 10:30 (see?  I don’t even know!).  Most of the time, however, it’s Jay Leno.

But as of June 1, Jay has left the Tonight Show and will begin his new duties as host of Prime Time which sounds a lot like the Tonight Show, just an hour and half earlier.  Conan moves from his Late Night show to the Tonight Show, and Saturday Night Live Alum Jimmy Fallon takes over Conan’s spot on Late Night. 

I guess my whole problem with O’Brien is that I just don’t find him funny.  I’ve watched a few shows where he was the writer and I thought they were outstanding.  A pilot for a show called Lookwell aired in 1991 and fell into the category of brilliant.  Adam West (Batman) played an actor who had had one hit TV show and was trying to parlay it into a career (sort of like playing himself).  The character he had portrayed had been a cop and now, when he was in between acting jobs (which was all the time) he tried to help the real police with real cases.  They welcomed his help like they would have welcomed a swarm of locusts.

The pilot, which was never picked up by a network, was hilarious.  But Conan didn’t appear in the show; he only wrote it.

I was discussing my dislike for Conan with a friend one time and he challenged me.  I had said that I thought I could probably make it through an entire episode of Conan without even cracking a smile. 

I won, but since Conan had on some funny guests that night, it was hard.

It may not be fair to compare Conan to a master like Johnny Carson given the fact that they’re from two different generations, but those comparison will be made. 

Carson hosted the Tonight Show starting in 1962.  His run lasted until May 22, 1992 when he signed off for a final time and never appeared in public again (except for a one minute cameo he did on Letterman on May 13, 1994).  He died on January 23, 2005.

Simply, Johnny Carson was a comic genius.  He had an incredible sense of timing, and even when a joke would fall flat, he could adlib with a rubber face to cover himself.  He also knew how to get the most out of a guest who might not be as talkative as one would like.

Conan, on the other hand, relies on sight gags.  His poor comic timing reminds me of the old uncle who always messes up a joke.  When he banters with guests, most of the time it seems that he’s pushing his own agenda rather than highlighting what the guest has to say.

One notable exception to this was when Conan interviewed the cast of NBC’s Friends during the final episodes of that sitcom.  He appeared on their set and directed the show towards them instead of himself.

Conan has one hope if he wants to be a success as the new Tonight Show host.  He’s got to get the spotlight off himself and direct it at guests who can carry the burden of the show.  If he does that, he’s got half a chance.  If he doesn’t then NBC will be begging Jay Leno to come back to the 10:30 spot.

We’ll know for sure how it works out about nine months from now.  If there’s a spike in the number of babies born during the last week of February and the first week of March next year, we’ll know NBC’s experiment was a failure.

Of course, I think NBC will know much before that.