Imagine announcing you're pregnant and getting about 50 of the exact same congratulatory cards in the mail on the same day. That happened to Mike Myers, only on local TV in essentially every town in America. Moral of the story: Mix it up a little, TV producers. There are plenty of Austin Powers quotes to go around.
Two lovable comedy icons returned to their mutual hometown of Sitcomland last night, but America acted like Robin Williams was the cool guy who'd flown around the world on a hang glider while Michael J. Fox was the neighborhood dweeb who set a jump-rope record on the corner. An enormous 15.6 million viewers tuned in to see Williams's pilot — the one Andy Greenwald called "a not-great version of a good idea winging its way onto our screens through a combination of momentum, optimism, and Williams's trademark flop sweat" — making The Crazy Ones the most viewed new show this autumn. NBC's The Michael J. Fox Show only reeled in 7.2 million viewers, less than half as many as CBS's new hit. In pure 1985 terms, this is borderline impossible to understand — '85 for MJF: Back to the Future, Teen Wolf; '85 for R-Willy: nada. But when you remember that there's a show called The Big Bang Theory and it has its own cult as big as a medium-size nation (last night: 18.3 million viewers, the show's personal best), and that this mysterious show played lead-in to Robin Williams, it makes sense, kind of.
Robert Smigel joins Bill to talk about the mystery of Da Bears movie that will never be made, as well as his many Conan/SNL memories and his recent Emmy for his successful "Night of Too Many Stars" show (which raises money for autism education). Oh, he also tells us about the origins of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog:
Look — if you work on a hit TV show like Breaking Bad, you're going to get some letters. Some will be from prisoners admiring the efficient way you handled your business with those simultaneous hits. Some from older people disappointed in your life choices — you seemed like such a nice man in the beginning — who don't trust the e-mail to get to you. And some, as you are about to find out, from people who would like to sex your pal while you watch, or mix vats of chemicals, or scream the soul-chilling banshee-howl of existential anguish as you think about the terrible things you've done, you can work out the details later. But when you get one of these letters, it's your duty to read it on a talk show. In front of the pal she (or he) wants to do. That's just the way you play it.
Last night on Conan, O'Brien's old buddy Louis C.K. stopped by to reminisce about working together on Late Night back in the day, failing to pick up Gwyneth Paltrow at a Christmas party, and why he won't let his daughters have cell phones. Was it because he was afraid they'd turn into morally bankrupt adults who would promise to pay homeless people to stand in the iPhone line for them, then leave said homeless people unpaid and stranded? No, that's just an added bonus: It's because phones strip us of our ability to "just sit there, like this [sits there]. That's being a person, right?" Learning to deal with that "empty — forever empty" phoneless feeling not only prepares you to handle your own inescapable loneliness, it gives you the kind of armor that will keep you from texting and driving. Everyone wins, except his daughter's phone Scrabble ELO ratings.
There is an event that takes place in Washington, D.C., every year, traditionally the last Saturday of April, officially titled the White House Correspondents' Dinner and unfortunately hashtagged as #NerdProm.
An observation: This event is not a prom for nerds. It's five celebrities and six Patron shots away from being the Golden Globes. Also, as a FOUR-TIME attender of prom, the WHCD's complete absence of Axe Body Spray, 18-person dinners at Benihana, or English teachers trying to Breathalyze me while I try to grind to Chingy does not say prom to me. Not at all.
Harmony Korine's Letterman legacy gave us the inspiration for this week's HOF: a look back on all the times the predictable rhythm of a talk show has been shaken up by its guests and taken to another level, for better or, oftentimes, for worse.
First: Conan O'Brien has a web show called Serious Jibber Jabber, which borrows both Charlie Rose's long-form interview structure and the black nether space in which Charlie Rose shoots his show. (Did you know this? I did not know this.) Second: Judd Apatow was recently on this show and, along with telling Conan all sorts of other things (the interview, below, runs over an hour), Judd revealed a curious little detail. See, 22 years ago, back when Apatow was a wide-eyed nobody in this biz, he wrote a spec script for The Simpsons. Nothing happened with it, and it sat on a shelf as Apatow hustled and fought and failed, before finally becoming the comedy guru we know and love today. And now that Simpsons script is actually going to be made into an episode. Well, this is delightful.
Last week, apropos of nearly nothing, The Hollywood Reporter ran a fawning cover story on Conan O’Brien. “REVENGE OF THE NERD” blared the headline, while the article itself gushed over the star’s “relaxed and happy” appearance and how, two and a half years removed from his debacle at NBC, the star has “no regrets.” Ratings for Conan, O’Brien’s TBS show, while never good, have rebounded of late, from losing-to-Chelsea Lately embarrassment to Colbert-trailing near-respectability. But the bulk of the discussion regarding Conan’s place in the late-night firmament uses words that make the show seem less like a success and more like the fevered, PowerPoint dreams of an overcaffeinated marketer. The story, like most written about O’Brien these days, points to “new viewing platforms” and recent accomplishments “invading the digital space” — buzzy nonsense that suggests a multi-million-dollar talk show ought to have the same long-term goals as Keyboard Cat — and the word “Twitter” is tossed around liberally, as if its very invocation can ward off the evil spirits of viewer stagnation and basic cable irrelevance. “If success were only about ratings, we’d just run Westerns all the time,” TBS president Steve Koonin is quoted as saying, an oddly backhanded defense of his decision to extend O’Brien’s contract through 2014.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Bill Carter — the Homer of the late night talk show Odyssey — penned a depressing, reality-checking piece about the state of the desks. The takeaway: the era of glib, monologue delivering, band-having, big-chinned raconteurs is over. Comedy Central’s one-two punch of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — with their innate ability to attract millions of savvy, young eyeballs with nothing more expensive than a brightly-lit set and a staff of nerdy, male Harvard graduates — was the epoch-altering meteor that sealed the dinosaurs’ fate. But according to Carter, the sea-change in entertainment — how we consume it and how much we have to choose from — is what’s hastening their demise. (If you’re a scientist, think of this as the sun-blocking dust kicked up by said meteor. If you’re Michele Bachmann, consider it the legion of diplodocus-hunting ur-men who re-claimed the Earth for the true children of Adam. Either way.)
Here is the no. 1 reason why TBS canceled Lopez Tonight: Nobody watched it. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much: Recently the show was pulling in a mere 400,000 viewers a night — or, as those in the biz call it, a “Cleveland." Even worse, the two-year-old talk show managed only a 0.2 rating among the 18- to 49-year-olds who are legally required to be referred to as “coveted” (and, most likely, aren’t just people who fell asleep during reruns of Seinfeld and left the flat screen humming).
So it’s probably not worth digging too deep here in search of conspiracy theories. It’s unfortunate that Lopez and Mo’Nique both lost their talk shows in the same week — leaving the late-night landscape whiter than Conan O’Brien in a leaky pasteurization plant — but it’s also an unfortunate coincidence. No one could survive ratings that low. Sometimes a Hollywood cigar is just a cigar — even when it happens to be a generally unfunny cigar floating in an unattended pool.