I was always under the impression that Conan O’Brien was a beloved figure of this generation’s culture. The dude’s been on TV since the early ’90s, wrote for The Simpsons’ best (and most popular) seasons, and has pretty much established himself as a consistent and entertaining performer (not to mention I have never personally met a single person who dislikes him). Yet, according to this article, his Tonight Show ratings are dropping fast since taking over from Leno last week, and — at least based on the user comments attached to the article — it seems I’m suddenly in a minority. I always thought he was much more engaging than Jay Leno. Everybody leaving feedback on that page seem to have taken a passionately opposite stance. I was also surprised by a relatively mediocre score on Metacritic, where it garnered just under an average of 70/100, with lots of criticism about the show’s humour and pacing.
This begs the question, then, of why Conan is failing. Is it the generation gap? Does Conan appeal more towards the “Internet generation,” which I suppose I would include myself as being a part of, who grew up with him as the face of their late late show and “understand” his humour (which is inherently more appealing to us)? Is he too wacky and goofball for older audiences who are alternately accustomed to Leno’s familiarity and “maturity”? Or have I been living under a rock all these years, deluding myself into believing a false reality where Conan is some kind of cultural legend, and the truth is that Conan is really just sort of not that popular with most people?
What do you think? Do you think he just needs time to settle in? Or do you think his approach is too “hip” for mainstream America to ever fully digest? Also, what’s up with Jimmy Fallon? Can he be any lamer?
Interesting sidenote, by the way: I interned at CNBC in London a few years ago, and was told by staff members that Conan had made a few trips to the building over the years. Apparently, he was a bit of an eccentric; as an example, word had spread around the office that his show was actually canceled by NBC in its first-year run, due to low ratings (I’m not sure if this was ever made public) — and Conan responded by locking himself in his office, crawling under his desk and crying until NBC agreed to let him continue (this might be why it was never made public). The ratings, thankfully, began to improve right after this.
Maybe, if he’s put in a similar situation this year, he should try that tactic again. I really hope that story is true because the very idea of Conan O’Brien locking himself in his office and shuffling underneath his desk bawling like a man-child amuses me to great lengths.