I was never a huge Conan O’Brien fan. I didn’t think he was horrible, but his show (in its various forms) wasn’t must-see or must-DVR material, and my opinion wasn’t changed by his TBS debut last night.
I normally don’t judge a host based on their first show, but this was far from Conan’s virgin TV experience. He’s still doing the same stuff he’s done for more than a decade and a half — monologue, desk chat & wacky skit, celebrity interviews — the same format as all the others, and he hasn’t reinvented anything.
Still, even without me as a regular viewer, Conan has no reason to worry. His show will be fine for TBS, which means he won’t have a huge audience, but more than they had with sitcom reruns, and he’ll probably run for as long as he wants to because the pressure is even lower than it was before he left “Late Night” for “Tonight.”
Still, whether I watch Conan will be entirely dependent on his guests, and that’s where he’s going to have a problem. Sure, his bookers have lined up some decent names for the first week or two, but simple Hollywood math will tell you that the odds of him getting someone great in the chair on a regular basis are quite small.
Blame it on how broad the celebrity-interview landscape has become: Leno, Letterman, Conan, Lopez, Ferguson, Fallon, Kimmel, Daly, and Handler, all in late-night, not to mention the other shows throughout the day (Oprah, Ellen, Regis, The View, The Talk, Rachel Ray, Wendy Williams, Joy Behar, and Larry King). That’s more than 85 hours of celeb-focused talk TV every week, and doesn’t include Today, Good Morning America and The Early Show, nor Stewart and Colbert, who are less dependent on movie stars and sitcom flash-in-the-pans.
Talk shows like these are relatively inexpensive, but if they’re celeb-driven, they risk calamity when there are so few money-in-the-bank guests to satisfy the overwhelming demand. With all those hours to fill, they’ve had to lower the bar. Instead of money-in-the-bank, the standard has become anyone-in-the-green-room. Pity the poor soul in show business with a new movie, TV show, book, or album who can’t find a camera pointed in their direction. Woe to the agent who has to inform her client that the only host that will book him is Charlie Rose.
The industry may soon find that it has reached a sort of Guest Apocalypse in which there aren’t enough celebrities to populate all of those shows. You’ll know we’re near the end when the hosts start showing up as guests on each other’s shows.
I spotted a big warning sign of this Peak Guest Level just a couple of weeks ago, on the night that David Letterman spent an entire segment mired in an intimate philosophical conversation with Snooki.
Regis must have been out to dinner that night.