Tag Archives: Tonight Show

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Nineteen years ago today, Johnny Carson said goodbye.

Retiring after thirty years at the age of 66, Carson walked away from a show that became part of the fabric of American pop culture. Much like Ed Sullivan’s variety show, unknown performers could become instant superstars just by nailing a single appearance. Carson didn’t start the Tonight Show (Steve Allen and Jack Paar preceded him), nor would he finish it, but his impact upon it and the late-night talk show design will forever be paramount.

Other talk shows of the day were warm and fuzzy (Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas) or a bit cerebral (Dick Cavett); Carson blended both with a parade of incredible guests and a willingness to be as serious or silly as the situation required. He let people be themselves. During his reign, the show’s title became secondary to the man; artists simply referred to “being on Carson“.

On his final night, Carson went out with grace and class:

And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”

Video: Excerpts from the final show

Although he never came back into the public eye, his legacy lives on through everyone who speaks into a microphone from behind a desk, and the advent of cable television has allowed many students to co-exist in the form. While initially his replacement Jay Leno and his protegé David Letterman split the bulk of the audience, a flood of worthy children now occupy the night-time hours and will be worthy successors to their aging mentors.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have taken the political end of the spectrum to new heights; Stewart is often singled out as the most trusted source of news on television, despite his consistent disclaimer that his is a comedy show. (Speaks volumes about the networks, doesn’t it?).

After holding slots previously occupied by both Leno and Letterman, Conan O’Brien’s new TBS effort proved that people will follow the man, not the show. The embarrassing NBC debacle was followed by the guerilla Team Coco movement, and Conan remains a strong brand and a unique personality.

After shaky starts, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and especially Jimmy Fallon have proven to have solid and consistent programs that attract first-rate guests and feature brilliant writing. Along with smaller network show hosts (Chelsea Handler, George Lopez, Mo’Nique, Graham Norton), the comedy/music/chat formula is in good hands.

But to a person, each will point a finger back at the master, Johnny Carson.

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Stand Up Wit…Joan Rivers

I finally got to see the new Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece Of Work. While not a perfectly objective film – key people involved are her friends and she had suggestive input to the content – it paints what I believe to be a fairly honest picture of a driven artist who won’t take her hand off the throttle. Part of that drive is to maintain control and keep the cash flow coming in. Part of it is the fear that not doing so would make her irrelevant…but then she’s been fighting that battle since the beginning.

Since I’ve always known her as a comic first and foremost, I’m not certain just how many people perceive her more as the QVC hustler, the red carpet maniac or the poster child for plastic surgery. None of those are complimentary, but if  we learn anything from A Piece of Work it is that Joan will do just about anything for a paycheck. Of course, she sees it for what it is – a paycheck – and in fact the film opens with a shockingly vulgar routine about her daughter passing up just such an opportunity.

Through a combination of photos, clips and footage we get a high level overview of her career – the struggle to get started, the star-making opportunity with Johnny Carson (and the backlash when she launched her own show at Fox); her difficulties with and love for her family and how those ties both helped and hurt her chances. This isn’t a life arc, it was filmed as a year in the life, with anecdotes. While it’s done well, I was hoping for more focus on the backstory; certainly there are hundreds of people who could have provided recollections and insight. We do get a few talking heads, from Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin to staff and management people. Why so few?

Video: Official Movie Trailer

You’ll probably learn more about Joan Rivers by reading her books, but that’s her window. The documentarians neither canonize nor attack her, which allow you to see her insecurities as exactly what they are – fuel for the fire. Comedians have to deal with rejection every time they walk on stage. Rivers has dealt with so much throughout her life that it’s amazing she’s still in there punching. But then you see her take the stage, and it’s as if an appliance was suddenly plugged into a socket. She’s fearless and tireless, but most importantly, she’s funny.

Rivers is 77 years old, but her schedule would exhaust a soccer mom half her age. Her recent victory on Donald Trump’s boardroom reality show gave her some extensive network visibility, and a recent announcement has her starting a reality show with her daughter and grandson. This movie was nominated for Best Documentary by the Broadcast Critics and if the Academy follows suit with an Oscar nod, that’s another a couple of months of top rung publicity. There are some painful moments in the film dealing with loneliness and rejection (both personally and professionally); it would be nice to see her get the recognition she deserves and have her name once again be primarily associated with comedy.

Go see the film – but also go see the legend herself.

Official website for the film

Joan Rivers’ official website

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Holy Crap! Conan to TBS!

I guess George Lopez is taking to everybody these days.

First Sandra Bullock. Now Conan.

“If you haven’t heard by now, Conan O’Brien will be joining us on late-night on TBS. Welcome!, Welcome! I want to say this, I want to say that I am completely 100% on board with this move. I talked to Conan on Wednesday and I talked to him last night and I said I welcome you into my deep loving embrace. Then I said let’s take the party and make it bigger and take it into the next generation of late-night TV. Lets do that! Lets do that! Lets do that! Everybody’s heard of ‘I’m with CoCo’ but now everybody can ‘Go LoCo’.”

Lopez also made a great crack about how doing his show an hour later wouldn’t be the same – basically a nod and a wink to Conan’s response to NBC. Of course, he’s able to laugh because he knows that he just scored a major lead-in for his show.

Yeah, I was shocked at the TBS signing; I figured FOX was in the driver’s seat all the way. And I wasn’t the only one with dropped jaw. But it makes sense for a network that refers to itself as “very funny”. They need to be very funny. And Conan fills the bill.

Face it, the Tonight Show is a brand name, but the legacy is irrevocably tarnished. People refer to the choice as Leno or Letterman, not Late Night vs. The Tonight Show. And Leno’s viewing audience is old…and getting older. Lopez, on the other hand, skews young. So does Conan. Tonight might have the name, but lately Jimmy Fallon is hipper, and NBC knows it. Enjoy that deal with the devil.

This year TBS even tried a comedy show – underpromoted, of course – called Very Funny. Imagine how much talent they will attract when the comedians know they will be cross-promoted on Conan’s show…where they will also appear. Imagine the new wave of comedians that will get airtime knowing that they are on basic cable, not network television.

And frankly, aside from the depth of penetration, what is network television? Very few cities still receive over-air broadcast; it’s almost all digital. Most people get something beyond basic cable, and many of those basic cable packages include TBS. And thanks to Al Gore, we have this medium you’re using right now. In other words, a platform is a platform in the twenty-first century. If you want to see something, you can.

All Conan did over the past year was (1) legitimize his ability on the grander stage, (2) exit a horrible situation with class, good will and a shitload of money, and (3) raise his profile ten times higher than a great run on NBC would have done. Win, win and win.

I cannot wait! Until then, catch the mad redhead on the road.

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Tonight, Again

Uh-Oh...the Olympics are over.

I just can’t get past it

I was fine with NBC just being jackasses to begin with, and then making the stupidest move in recent television history, and then after Conan’s classy exit I was ready to let it all go. 

I mean it’s just television, right? 

But no, NBC had to start airing those smarmy commercials using lyrics from “Get Back” to insinuate that the universe has course-corrected itself. As if they fixed a mistake rather than creating two. And now that the Olympics are over, there’s no more Conan and we’ve reset the clock to…I dunno, melba toast

I bear no personal animosity towards Jay Leno. I saw him years ago doing standup; he was both funny and congenial. I don’t pretend to know what’s really going on behind the scenes. But I do know when I’ve had enough. 

So here’s a question for you, NBC network geniuses: If you really have to launch a mass-market campaign to make certain viewers know that Jay Leno is back on the Tonight Showafter every magazine, newspaper, web site and blog beat this horse to glue for a solid month – is it possible that maybe it wasn’t the right move after all? 

Video: Ricky Gervais  

Not to mention that this seven minutes of  Ricky Gervais’ on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was probably funnier than anything the Tonight Show will show all year

So maybe you do need my free plug after all.

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One Last Word on the Subject

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High Roads, Haiti and Grande Ballrooms

Class act, class exit.

Conan O’Brien proved last night that it is possible to walk away from an ugly situation by taking the high road. His last show was filled with fun, pranks, great music and a heartfelt message to his fans.  

Watch here.  

And in case NBC takes down the video, here’s a transcript of his comments, plus clips from his fellow talk-show hosts.  

I could write fifty pages on why people love Conan O’Brien and not touch that four minute speech.  

***  

If you’re the type of person who likes to contribute to worthwhile projects, here are a couple of opportunities on wildly different scales.  

  

I’ll Stand By You  

Hope For Haiti Now conducted a very successful telethon last night where millions of dollars were raised for the cause. I’m as skeptical as the next person about charity scams and how some organizations skim large percentages off the top for administration costs with little of the money actually going to the charity. But this project was set up with public transparency and a guarantee that one hundred percent of the donations will go to a handful of specific organizations who are on the ground in Haiti.  

Please beware of scam sites. This is the official one.  

Of course, you might be donating through work (with an employer match) or directly to an established organization you trust (i.e. The American Red Cross). Nothing wrong with that – charity comes from the heart, and whatever you do is greatly needed and surely appreciated. It could even be non-monetary, like volunteerism or prayer. But know that despite what some religious nutjobs and political wingnuts are saying, this is not reparation but a natural disaster that has flattened a helpless people.  

We take much for granted. There but for geography and fate go I.  

***  

Where rock'n'roll met its match in Detroit

On a whole different level, documentarian Tony D’Annunzio is completing a film project about the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The Grande was as critical to the development of the Detroit rock music scene as the Fillmore West was to San Francisco and the Fillmore East to New York. This is where every band from Detroit aspired to play, and where every band from out of town had to walk the gauntlet and prove themselves worthy.  

Check out this amazing trailer featuring several legendary musicians who fondly recall the place where magic happened.  

Here’s the official blurb from the project website:  

LOUDER THAN LOVE is the story of the Grande Ballroom in Detroit Michigan. The Grande Ballroom was the birthplace of the Detroit Rock Music Scene. Bands like MC5,Iggy & The Stooges,Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes,Alice Cooper and many more got their start here. The Grande not only influenced local Detroit musicians but inspired bands from all over the US & from Europe. Legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, BB King, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and The Who graced the stage at the Grande on a regular basis. While the west coast was groovin’ to the sounds of the “Summer of Love” in 1967, Detroit was pumping out a hard driving,gritty and raw sound that was LOUDER THAN LOVE.  

Sounds like a worthy project and a great tribute to a landmark. Contact Tony D’Annunizio through that webpage if you need more information.  

Just don’t accidentally contact this guy.

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Golden Globes: Four Words

Well, compared to last year, I was a little more on target. Still there were some surprises along with the close races that just tipped the other way. After John Lithgow and Michael C. Hall won, I figured Dexter was a shoo-in for Best Drama, but you can’t stop Mad Men with a bullet. And as the nominees were read, I was reminded again how many serious omissions there were.

And I’ve really had my fill of talk about the “greatest crew” and the “best job” and “loving to come to work every day” to “a true collaborative effort”. At least do what Chloe Sevigny did and name some names (she thanked one of her PAs for running lines with her every day). But there’s something about seeing Mike Tyson on stage in a tuxedo being celebrated for his role in the highest-grossing comedy film of all time that puts things into perspective.

So I think a lot of my post-Golden Globes impressions can be summed up in four words

Not enough Ricky Gervais. He had some great moments, whether tossing zingers at upcoming presenters or pimping his own DVDs, but it seemed like there were often ten or fifteen minute gaps between appearances. Maybe it just seemed that long because (as usual) actors reading scripted gags from cue cards are painful to watch, especially when they’ve been downing champagne at a furious pace. But it probably didn’t matter that he didn’t get more podium time because…

They didn’t get him. “Looking at all the faces here reminds me of some of the great work that’s been done this year – by cosmetic surgeons.”…”I’ve had a penis reduction. Just got the one now. And it is very tiny. But so are my hands. So when I’m holding it, it looks pretty big. I wish I was doing that now instead of this, to be honest.”…(After visibly drinking beer from a pint glass hidden in the podium) “I like a drink as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Mel Gibson.”…comedy gold! But when the cameras panned to the crowd they were either enveloped in conversation or staring blankly. Too hip for the room, but thankfully not for those watching the broadcast.

The Dude finally abides. Jeff Bridges finally won on his fourth nomination, and between his appearance and attitude and his reminiscing about his father (Lloyd Bridges) and family, I would not have been surprised if he asked where his carpet was.

Jane Lynch got screwed. No disrespect to Chloe Sevigny, but this award should have had Jane Lynch‘s name on it. Her bitch-in-a-track-suit character from Glee is far from a one-note performance, as we got to see in episodes that exposed her family life and dating woes. Glee did upset 30 Rock for Best Comedy, however. (“This is for anybody and everybody who got a wedgie in high school” quipped director Ryan Murphy).

Meryl Streep is funny. “I want to change my name to T-Bone. T-Bone Streep!” Priceless.

Drew Barrymore was acting. So one minute she’s sitting at her table, giggling with friends, looking as comfy as can be. Then the red light comes on and she’s blubbering about growing up in Hollywood and dancing really close to the cliff of Sally Field’syou really like me” implosion. Yawn. Take a cue from Robert Downey Jr. next time and do something unique.

Mo’Nique nailed it. Great, emotional speech and a sincere call-out to victims of abuse to have the courage to come forward and heal. I don’t know why I thought the HFPA wouldn’t get such a dark performance, because every award ceremony seems to be honoring it. But if the night had a lump-in-throat moment, it was hers.

Martin Scorcese is awesome. What a fascinating man, and a true champion of film preservation. His batting average as a director is astounding, and he’s been blessed to have actors like Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel and Leonardo DiCaprio as collaborators and lead actors. Even DeNiro‘s odd comic riff about Scorcese having sex with film canisters couldn’t tarnish the accomplishments of a true giant in the industry.

Sir Paul is cool. “I’m Paul McCartney, or as I’m known, that guy from Rock Band“. Great line about animation being for “adults who take drugs“, but oddly not a peep out of the crowd when he dropped that blatant hint about a resurrected Yellow Submarine project.

NBC ducked a bullet. Outside of a couple of barbs from Julianne Margulies (“thanks to Les Moonves for believing in a 10:00 drama”) and Gervais (joking that NBC would replace him with Jay Leno during the show), the Tonight Show fustercluck was hardly mentioned. I heard there were comments on the red carpet part of the program, but I don’t do red carpets.

And most importantly I should never wager. Sure, I picked three of the four NFL playoff games (and would have won all four had San Diego’s kicker not gone Norwood on them) but betting on film awards is a good place to clean out your wallet. Six out of ten isn’t bad, but nothing to brag about. (Wrong picks in red.)

Best Picture (Drama): Avatar (The Hurt Locker)
Best Picture (Musical or Comedy): The Hangover (It’s Complicated)
Best Director: James Cameron, Avatar
Best Actor (Drama): Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart (George Clooney)
Best Actress (Drama): Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Actor (Musical or Comedy): Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Best Actress (Musical or Comedy): Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique, Precious (Vera Farmiga) 
Best Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

But I’ll be doing this again at Oscar time, of course. It’s only Internet money, right?

Golden Globe nominees and winners.

Critic’s Choice Movie Awards also announced this weekend.

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