January 24th, 2010

krazy koati

It's really love, dear, I knew it from the start

So Conan O'Brien had his final Tonight Show last night, and as anyone who read my 86-part essay on attending his final Late Night knows, I'm a fan, going far back to his start in 1993. You'd probably be very nearly interested in the number of little obscure fannish references to his shows that I've slipped into my online persona. One result is that many people wonder what I make of his firing/leaving/walking away from The Tonight Show, and what I think he'll do next.

And I realize that, somehow, I feel strangely okay with everything that's happened. Granted, none of it really affects me personally and everyone involved is at least getting some compensation for the job not being as stable as might have been expected. But something about the way O'Brien came to the end of his run on The Tonight Show feels ... maybe not right, morally, but at least appropriately legendary. Maybe I'm showing my age.

I was just barely old enough to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, although I didn't very often since by the late 80s/early 90s he was mostly running on fumes and David Letterman was more exciting and original. But I did grow up with that feeling of The Tonight Show being this legend, an institution that went back to the misty days before television discovered fire, a place with names I kind of knew like Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Ernie Kovacs who'd run it before and Heeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny now. I knew things which happened to it should be bigger and more exciting than what happened to other talk shows, this place where Ed Ames and Carnac and they took the show to Cuba and then Berlin and Kermit was guest-host and the Slauson Cutoff and ... even if on the day-to-day basis I was less worried about actually watching it.

And I think that's why it feels so right that Conan O'Brien should take what had been, at heart, Jay Leno's show failing at 10 pm and his own ratings being too low to resist being bumped back a half-hour, and turn it into a moral stance. Being pushed behind a half-hour Jay Leno show would be a subtly degrading demotion for Conan, but more, for The Tonight Show, and ... maybe everyone has fantasies of quitting rather than putting up with the boss's subtle degradations. But it's the sort of thing that becomes television mythology, the way Jack Paar's walking off the show did, and I feel good that something with that mythological heft could still happen.

Maybe in five years nobody will remember what was ever so interesting about late night talk shows. Maybe not. But I usually like it when people assume that what they do does matter, and that they should do things that can be legendary. So maybe that's why I don't feel distraught by all this. I got to be there to witness something striving for nobility.

Trivia: The Hoover Dam swing shift crew of 24 January 1933 managed a record 1,841 truckloads scooped out from the canyon base --- roughly, four truckloads a minute for the eight-hour shift. Source: Hoover Dam, Joseph E Stevens.

Currently Reading: The New Hugo Winners, Editors Isaac Asimov, Martin H Greenberg.