By John Delery and Billy Procida
TBS has poured its heart, soul and, most important, its promotional budget into Conan O’Brien’s resurrected late-night talk show, called, simply enough, Conan.
The intent, of course, to announce, no, scream, Conan’s “BAAAAAAAAACK!” But are the rambunctious redhead and his hopeful benefactors at the basic cable network trying too hard? We won’t know definitively until at least Nov. 9, the day after the series debuts, but for now, we feel safe saying…maybe.
Months of manic buildup may, inevitably, leave us let down.
After all, you cannot turn on your TV, log on to your PC or Mac or switch on your smartphone or even your dumbphone these days without seeing the goofiest and biggest comedian (in terms of height anyway) on late night. The marketing for Conan, which debuts at 11 pm EST on Nov. 8, has been primarily Internet-based. O’Brien used Twitter to reveal he had signed with TBS, and since then, Team Coco, as he and his merry staff call themselves, have flooded YouTube, TBS.com, and the Team Coco website with promo videos.
Most of the web promos are simple, shot against a blue backdrop while letting Conan be Conan. Many of the TV commercials being broadcast on TBS have been subtle too, reminding us that Conan’s coming to the tune of the iconic ’80s love song “Missing You.”
But some of the more ambitious ads have been comically over-the-top: O’Brien metaphorically soaring above his competition in several spots while trading quips with his snappy pilot aboard an orange blimp (see video below) inscribed with Conan in gigantic letters or the oddly comic combo of O’Brien launching an explosives-filled, popcorn-packed 1969 Dodge Dart off a cliff while an orchestra plays in the background.
The most ridiculous yet inventive of recent efforts has to be Team Coco Live, a 24-hour webcam stream from a stairwell in the new series’ office. But instead of your typical underwhelming office webcam, 600,000 viewers were entertained by publicity-driven antics, including a dancing taco, ’80s-inspired aerobic dancers and a binge-eating contest.
Oh yeah, the former Late Night host is even letting fans choose his first guest from among 12 candidates.
In the lead right now is Jack Nicholson (who hasn’t appeared on a talk show since 1971), with tween heartthrob Justin Bieber only a couple of thousand votes behind. Other potentials are Lady Gaga, Pope Benedict XVI, and Tom from MySpace. Quite the gimmick to ensure a solid first night.
TBS and Team Coco are doing a lot of advertising and spending a lot of money in the lead-up to Conan’s invasion of Letterman’s and Leno’s territory. The question still remains: Will all the expense be worth it?
Not that long ago, O’Brien, hyped to the hilt, was preparing to succeed Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. NBC heavily promoted his ascension from the 12:30 a.m. wilderness to the prime real estate of 11:30 p.m. His premiere scored higher ratings than both CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman and ABC’s Nightline combined. But after that 7.1 rating, his viewership swiftly plummeted, leading NBC to desperately re-enlist the soldierly (some say treacherous) Leno and eject O’Brien from the pilot’s seat, though with a $47 million golden parachute to soften his hard fall and cushion his embarrassment. Since O’Brien’s debut in the throne once occupied by the King of Late Night, Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show has yet to surpass a 5 rating.
His new effort has the potential to be the longest buildup to a punch line since Chevy Chase became the sad joke on his short-lived talk show on Fox in the early 1990s. Or the payoff may be worth the long setup.
O’Brien and his team have done terrific things in the past, but all the promos only increase expectations for the series. With a new band and the host’s new beard, what can we expect from the new show? O’Brien seems to be re-energizing his fans in one of the numerous videos, asking, “Are you ready for a whole new kind of late-night television?” With timing honed over some 17 years of late-night mockery, mirth and mayhem, O’Brien pauses before confessing, “Good, me neither.”
With all the work being put into attracting viewers to the premiere and beyond, let’s hope Team Coco has been putting just as much (if not more) effort into the TBS show itself.