Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Talk is dead

A while back, I wrote Tonight (1954-2010) back during the big "I'm with Coco" kerfuffle. I don't point to it now because I'm especially proud of it. In fact, despite the fact that I was basically right, it's a terrible article that consistently loses track of the important thing "Who gives a fuck about any of these shows anymore?" to take cheap shots a Jay Leno. Cheap shots at Leno were kind of in vogue and as someone who was disappointed with how Leno transitioned to the role of host of The Tonight Show, it was easy.

Here's the thing, though. I really wanted to say I just don't care. In fact, I did say it. I just buried it under a ton of other things, so it wasn't very clear as my point.

So, now comes this big Jimmy Fallon "Tonight Show" buzz, along with Late Night with Seth Meyers, revamping the whole lineup there, and NBC and the media want to create a buzz about it. NBC as promotion, obviously, and the rest of the media, if nothing else, because late night TV has been an enduring source of drama.

I've been stewing on this myself, although through a thick haze of apathy, but now I read Discussion: Do You Watch Late Night TV Talk Shows? by Devin Faraci, which makes the same point. Faraci also implicitly wonders about Fred Armisen's decision to be a permanent feature of "Late Night" along with his stellar work on Portlandia. More curious to me, as Armisen ostensibly left Saturday Night Live to concentrate on "Portlandia", although I suspect the larger audience as well as opportunity to work as a musician rather than a comic actor is almost certainly the deciding issue... and the only thing in any of this that makes me remotely interested in any of this.

Like all of the late night geeks, certainly these ones taking over the shows, I grew up a huge fan of late night TV. I loved Johnny Carson and David Letterman's "Late Night". I loved Tomorrow with Tom Snyder and then Later with Bob Costas. I thought Conan O'Brien was delightful, and was one of those few who even liked him early on.

I watched The Late Show with Joan Rivers and even when she left. In fact, with some enthusiasm when Ross Shafer, former host of Seattle show Almost Live!, which then had a similar format, briefly took over the show. I watched The Arsenio Hall Show, too, as part of the young and hip of the time.

Hell, I even experimented with Thicke of the Night and The Pat Sajak Show! I really was a fan.

And now, I can't imagine caring about any of this!

Look, they aren't helping anything here.

During the whole "I'm with Coco" kerfuffle, O'Brien said something the stuck with me, "The Beatles were trying to be the Everly Brothers, and they couldn't quite pull it off. Elvis really wanted to sound like Dean Martin. But, you know, by failing. You have an image in your head of this iconic person. For me, it might have been Johnny Carson, where you grow up with him, and you think, 'Well, that's who I need to be' -- to realize that feeling I had when I was 8, sitting in my parents' house and watching him, and then things happen, and you think, 'Oh, my God, I didn't -- that fell apart.' But it's the failure to be that person or to completely follow through on what he did that leads you to something that's much better."

Reading that, I thought he was going to really embrace his differences and make something that was either new, or at least felt new. His TBS show, "Conan", has really not lived up to that. In fact, from what I've seen, it makes little attempt to distinguish itself. The Beatles and Elvis were what they were because they kept pushing forward. You might not always dig where they went, but they were pushing forward.

No one seems at all to push forward with this now.

Can I say with no specific offense intended to either that Jimmy Fallon followed by Seth Meyers is the most boring combination I can imagine? Two blandly pleasant, generally amusing dark haired, modestly attractive, non-offensive white guys in a row? Holy fuck does that sound awful! I guess Jay Leno followed by Jimmy Fallon has been working, so I'm sure they've decided if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But it is broke in it's way. I can reach back into my memory and pull all of these details out about these shows and how they worked from 30 years ago! People like me used to be excited about all of this.

Are people still doing that? Are kids specifically staying up late to catch as much of these shows as they can, because they are excited about them in themselves? Are they excited about the hosts and the format? Without that, without new generations excited by what's happening on the shows, I can't see how much longer they can survive.

So, yeah, the networks can bleed this dry a while longer. Heck, I'm sure I'll end up checking out Seth Meyers a time or two just to see what Fred Armisen does with the music, at least if I remember to.

But I think it's a dead format. It's just the walking dead, as it were, stumbling along because not everyone has found something better to do between the time the news ends and they're ready to fall asleep.

UPDATE: I think One More Fallon Thought by Mark Evanier covers the most essential reason why none of these shows are exciting anymore, the lack of spontaneity. I think that is the essential truth of it. There are, of course, other factors, but none of them are terribly important. All of these shows used to feel spontaneous, even when they weren't, and that was a major part of their appeal. That simply doesn't exist any longer.

That article was preceded by Watching Fallon's First Tonight Show, hence the title, and followed by More on Fallon, both of which are also worth reading.

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