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

10 comments:

Alanna said...

Great article. he's dead on. Instant gratifi - what? he Twittered THAT? - cation.

Donal said...

I had already read that (since the NY Times is still free) and somewhat agree with you. But while Conan might make more money in the long run, more and more I get the feeling that no one in business is willing to invest in the long run. Especially in media on life support like broadcast TV and national newspapers.

Squidboy said...

I've been thinking the same thing about Conan's audience, glad to see you post that thought. My initial reaction was that it was just another way for the boomers (intentional lower case) to screw Gen-X. But then I realized in our rejection of traditional media we have unintentionally screwed Conan. Conan will come out far ahead in the long run. This will be the best thing that ever happened to his career. NBC however is permanently crippled and will continue to struggle until they can figure out the new media market and adapt to it (unlikely). Zucker meanwhile is a gigantic clueless ass-douche and a member of Gen-X who is a discredit to his generation. How did he get his job, how can he possibly be keeping and is he really that much of a moron (apologies to morons everywhere)?

em said...

Interesting points, and yeah, he's definitely dead-on. Although, I have to admit, I'm 27, don't have a Twitter account, have a Facebook account that I haven't logged onto in months (where I have all of, uh, 30 friends?), would never know what to do with an iPhone, and just recently got rid of my TV/VCR combination set when the whole 'digital' switch happened a few months ago. Aaaand also have no clue on how DVR works. But hey, I can email!

I really just want to find out what's going to happen to Conan so I can figure out which network will give him a timeslot, and then go back to my cave.

Anonymous said...

I get irritated by finger pointing at Conan's low numbers because it's not like every other host had a previous host on air before them. How on Earth is Conan supposed to get good numbers while Leno is also on air on the same network? THAT idea stunk to high heaven and is why I think Conan was shafted, regardless of people's viewing habits. Did Conan ever get full support and faith from NBC ... if I had been in his shoes knowing his predecessor was on air, I'd think of that as undercutting. I'm interested in knowing of Leno really intended to retire and changed his mind, or if he was forced out and then asked back...anyway, an ugly affair all around...

Chez said...

The idea of Leno's tenure at 10pm setting the tone for the rest of the night and really ruining things for both the local news and, yes, Conan's show can't be overstated.

em said...

"How on Earth is Conan supposed to get good numbers while Leno is also on air on the same network?"

Yup. Didn't help that they promoted the fuck outta Leno's show and, again, left Conan with scraps.

BenoƮt from Ottawa said...

Tiny typo: "a requisite does of snark or the pertinent clips"

Chez said...

Thanks.

kanye said...

Why is it that we always reach for the most complicated answers that, at best, only serve to explain a small portion of a problem when the obvious answer is staring us right in the face?

We work more hours than ever before. Our commute times have more than doubled in the last 25 years, both in terms of actual time and frustration. We start our workday earlier. When I started working full time in the early '80s, I had a 7:00am start time. When I told people that, they would look at me in disbelief and ask, "How do you get up that early everyday?" 9-5 was the norm. Now, the roads are already traffic-heavy by 6am.

So, back to the question: Why are late-night shows losing their audience?

Because Americans are fucking tired and these shows are on late at night.