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Fonzie of the Week #18: Conan O’Brien

January 15th, 2010 No comments
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I’m real late to the party in supporting Conan O’Brien and joining the internet riot against the treachery of the Leno Industrial Complex. And if you’re reading my obscure little blog, then it’s a safe bet that you already know all about the poor guy getting royally screwed by his soon-to-be ex-employer. Needless to say, I’m with CoCo. So with gratitude for the many years of laughs he’s provided as writer or host for Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Late Night, and most recently his criminally short tenure at The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien is Fonzie of the Week.

True story: on December 29th I sent myself an email as a reminder to make Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg (the trombonist from the Tonight Show band, and the guy who sings the “In the Year 2000/3000” theme song) Fonzie of the Week someday. If only I had known what was to come, I might have sped things up and honored him already. But with what looks like only one week left before Conan is off the air – at least on NBC – LaBamba’s out and Conan’s in. (Sorry, LaBamba: you are just another piece of collateral damage generated by NBC’s deal-breaking blitzkrieg. Damn you, Jeff Zucker!)

The bad news is that Conan is most likely going to lose The Tonight Show in the next week or so. It’s a slap in the face to hard-working people everywhere. Conan paid his dues and patiently waited his turn, only to have NBC yank the rug out from under him less than a year later. The real insult is that Jay Leno got his 10pm show in the first place: it’s insulting to Conan because it sent a clear message that NBC was willing to handicap his Tonight Show to keep Leno happy; and it’s insulting to viewers because NBC’s reason for creating The Jay Leno Show was primarily an economic one: Leno’s show is way cheaper than scripted dramas or comedies. I understand NBC has to protect its bottom line, but this strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. It’s almost as slimy as the reality show boom of the last decade, but at least this time they were paying writers (if only those employed by Jay Leno).

The good news is that Conan will be back, and I believe better than ever. It’s disappointing that his unique brand of humor won’t carry the Tonight Show brand, but with Leno hijacking the show from its rightful host for arguably the second time, that brand no longer carries the street cred it once did. The only question now seems to be which network will host CoCo’s triumphant return. FOX seems to be in the lead, if the rumors are to be believed, but I think that Conan might be best served by a cable network where he’ll have fewer restraints placed on him by the FCC. Sure, Jon Stewart never had as big an audience as Leno or Letterman, but it’s easy to make the case that he’s made a bigger impact on American culture, even with his smaller platform. The history books will elevate him higher than any Nielsen ratings ever could. Conan is great on network TV…how much greater could he be minus the red tape that comes with a broadcast network? It’s a question worth asking.

Lastly, even if he weren’t the comedy dynamo he is, Conan would be Fonzie-worthy this week because of the statement he published in defense of his show. It was classy, thoughtful, gutsy, and striking in its honesty. And in true Conan O’Brien style, it left you with a laugh. Here’s hoping your final shows at The Tonight Show are great ones, Conan. I’ll be watching. You will be missed while you figure out your next step, and rest assured there will be many of us waiting to join you when you make that step. Viva Conando!

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