Monday, January 18, 2010
New View Review
If you've read Night of the Gun you know that, by all accounts, David Carr of the New York Times shouldn't even be alive much less be able to formulate a coherent thought -- but damn if he isn't one of the sharpest weapons in the Times's arsenal these days.
In today's edition, he argues that the "failure" of Conan O'Brien on The Tonight Show is more the fault of a new generation of viewing audiences than anything else. His point is basically that unlike the days of Carson, when one person had the power to bring an entire country together and could be a kind of human zeitgeist, our popular culture is now endlessly fragmented because the media is now endlessly fragmented. You don't have to watch an entire episode of Conan or Jay or whomever at whatever specific time it happens to air, and even if you do, by the time a late night talk show host gets to put his or her spin on the day's news events, they've been spun to death across the internet by a million separate outlets. The country doesn't gather around the TV anymore the way it used to; it doesn't need to.
What Carr doesn't get into, though, is why Conan is hamstrung by this brave new world while Leno seems less affected. It all comes down to the average age of their respective audiences. All you have to do is look at Leno's brand of humor to know that he skews much older; his audience is 55+, people much more likely to still take in TV the old-fashioned way rather than go looking for a requisite dose of snark or the pertinent clips from their favorite shows on the internet every hour on the hour. Conan's audience, meanwhile, is made up of younger people, many of whose brains' addiction centers would scream bloody murder if they found themselves detached from their iPhones, Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts or DVRs for longer than a couple of minutes. The irony, though, is that it's these younger viewers that are most prized by advertisers, so although Leno had a larger audience during his Tonight Show gig than Conan has been pulling since he took over, Conan's crowd could easily generate more money in the long run for the people paying NBC's bills.
Too bad there won't be a long run.
Either way, Carr's piece takes a smart look at what's quickly become a very ugly situation -- and one that says more about our media culture as a whole than you might think.
The New York Times: "It's Not Jay or Conan. It's Us" by David Carr/1.18.10