Learning to shoot skeet in a closed television studio was funny enough. Missing the skeet and shooting his sidekick in the chest made it hilarious.
It was moments like that which made Conan O’Brien a late-night television king in my eyes. He debuted in his “Late Night” 12:30 a.m. slot when I was in high school, and throughout my late teens and college years, Conan was must-see TV for me … even when I had 8 a.m. exams that following morning.
And it’s because of my generation — I believe we’re still known as Generation X — that after about 15 years of midnight bufoonery, Conan was given the coveted “Tonight Show” chair and desk when it was announced last year that Jay Leno would be stepping down (whether forcibly or on his own accord is still up for debate).
Leno — whose safer brand of humor apparently appeals more to the 40-and-over crowd — later moved to 10 p.m. in a move Time Magazine called “the future of television.” Budget-strapped NBC was replacing its primetime dramas, which can cost a network up to $1 million an episode to produce, with Leno’s one-hour show, which cost a fraction of the price.
It turns out, America loves its dramas, and Leno is so low in the ratings, the affiliates are complaining. Now NBC is mulling moving Leno back to “Tonight,” and the rumor mill is buzzing about FOX eyeing Conan if he’s bumped.
And we thought the Leno-Letterman war in the 90s was riveting.
Late-night television today isn’t the same late-night television my parents and my parents’ parents knew growing up. Thanks to cable, Letterman, Conan and Leno will never see the ratings Carson got, but despite all the options we now have on the tube, these shows will always be important in our culture.
We like to laugh, and what better way to follow up the evening news (filled with stories of murder, fires, unemployment and scandal) than with a show making fun of all of those things?
And of all the options currently out there (toss in Jimmy Kimmel on ABC), I prefer Conan. I’ll end up following him wherever he goes, and I’m just a bit sad his shot at “Tonight” was so short-lived.