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Why I'm not watching Conan tonight

By Alexandra Petri

Dear Conan,

I won't be watching you on TBS tonight. I'm sorry. It's not that I don't love you (I do) or that TBS isn't a super-station (it says so in the name!). But I have to decline owing to a subsequent engagement. (Don't think about that too long.)

I'm not doing this on principle. In fact, that's sort of the point. It's not that you aren't a classic! You are. But Mark Twain was right when he called a classic a "book men praise and don't read."

You're a classic for the Internet age -- a TV showman we praise and don't watch.

You're the Support for Iran's Green Revolution of TV personalities. If this makes you feel any better, we did the same thing to Haiti. That was the bizarre thing about the outpouring of support for you -- how much it paralleled what we do when Real Things occur overseas in countries whose names we can't pronounce. "I would mail them aid packages," we explain, "but I can't remember how many contiguous consonants there are, so I'm attending this concert instead."

Surely we'll be able to translate our vast outpouring of Team Coco enthusiasm -- the marches, the t-shirts, the banners, the art, the avatar twibbons,* the twitter followers -- into enough energy to move us to the couch in front of the television tonight?

Don't hold your breath.

There's a song in the musical "[title of show]" that states, "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing."

That's your problem, Conan. Sure, we're on Team Coco -- well, of course we are. Who are our other options? Jay Leno? That guy with the giant chin that our grandparents love because "he has a nice humor"? Letterman? I thought he was recusing himself.

Saying Conan is our favorite late-night host is like saying that he's our favorite member of the Andrews Sisters, or our favorite form of colonoscopy tube.** It's nice that we have a preference, but, really, when will this matter? Conan is the late-night host for people who, well, don't really like late-night television.

StuffWhitePeopleLike pointed this out early on, during the waves of support for Team Coco. For the past ten years, you've been our cause celebre, our bearded avenger, our icon -- well, our Twitter icon, anyway. We've raised boatloads of awareness.

But what does any of it mean?

It's like the leaves. First, our twitter avatars were green, for Iran. Then the fall came, and they were orange, for you, Conan. Now it's the season of awareness about the suicides of teens, and they're purple. I wish there were something we could do that mattered more.

To me, the most successful of any of these awareness campaigns has been the It Gets Better project, which set as its goal the only thing people seem capable of giving -- their online attention. Sure, we'll make inspiring videos, write songs, and wear t-shirts! But that's about as far as anyone's willing to go.

This unnerves me.

Raising awareness? Can I lower awareness and just raise money? I know you can't eat money, but you can't even spend awareness. I once had a lot of awareness, and the vending machine kept spitting it back out at me.

That's why I wanted to apologize to you in advance. You deserve better. I hope other people watch! But from the start, this had all the hallmarks of the Things We Say We Care About But Don't Do Anything About. You know what I'm talking about. You can't deny that half of the outpouring for you was motivated by guilt, the same kind of guilt that makes you pay for your illegitimate son's passage to America after realizing he's grown up without a father figure.

But can you blame us? Cable television is what you turn on because you think you'll watch Mad Men and leave on because you think there might be a cop show somewhere. With a few rare exceptions -- Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men -- it's not appointment viewing.

And late-night talk shows? Those, by definition, are not appointment viewing. Jay Leno is what you watch after your cat accidentally turns the television on and you suffer a form of paralysis that prevents you from changing the channel. The reason I watched Conan before was that I was growing up in a household without twitter, or Facebook, or cable, or a computer that didn't make horrifying screeching noises before taking me to the Internet, which consisted of three sites.

Before, the graph looked like this.

And you played into our hands, embracing the twitter and the in-person appearances. Now, well, I'm sorry, but I can't make it.

So much for me. But where are the rest of us now, you ask? The ones who got enthusiastically involved in you Internet campaign, who followed you on twitter, who designed and implemented t-shirts with impressive graphic representations of your face? They're watching the Daily Show.

I love you, Conan. It's not you. It's me.

But I'll follow you on twitter.


*Avatar twibbons sound like a rare tropical disease you contract on Pandora
**I wish I could come up with an analogy that didn't involve colonoscopies! You deserve better.

By Alexandra Petri  | November 8, 2010; 6:08 PM ET
Categories:  Petri, Reality? Television, That's awkward  | Tags:  apologies, twitter  
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Next: Mulligans: Obama's 50-Cent tour of India; Netanyahu's noisy tour of New Orleans


In my last job as a colonoscopist,** I used O'Brien colonoscopy tubes exclusively. Just when business was looking up (bada bing), O'Brien Colonoscopes, LLC was driven out of business by the predatory pricing of Olympus America, owned by NBC's parent company, General Electric. I know, the whole thing stinks (bada boom). But on the bright side, the new Olympus tubes are much better:

Then, before copyright infringement on YouTube became fashionable, I posted that clip of Conan with the geeky guy from the audience driving his desk in front of a green screen and ending up in an airplane with holes shot through his head by the Red Baron. Conan reported me, and I lost my divtune YouTube ID forever.

So Conan, I ain't watchin' no TBS BS show of yours. You can stick it where the sun don't shine! (symbol crash)

**The best analogy ever!

Posted by: divtune | November 8, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

By no means am I a professional writer, or have any worthy credentials, but I do have opinions. I must agree with Miss Petri about Conan's cult status due to the advent of technologies such as twitter and facebook, but just because a load of teenagers jumped on the bandwagon does not mean the viewers should completely avoid watching his show because it is being geared towards a younger generation. Petri, for me, somewhat feels confused about the whole situation on a larger scale, inherently taking a defense to those twitter savvy folks that gave his popularity a power boost. There is a certain love for Conan, but its almost like he is got the plague now, you still love him but you only want to hear about him when he is very far away. Its not that he is any more funny than he was before, but now his show has lost its innocence and has been corrupted by the cancellation of his old show. It's no longer about being a talk show host, but rather being an ex-talk show host who has more to say than he did before. I applaud Conan for doing what he loves for as long as he has been. To be on television for nearly twenty years as a late night host is incredible and whats even more amazing is how well adjusted he has become to the new technology that, in a way, is his savior. I respect Petri's article to the fullest, but I would much rather watch Conan as he performs rather than read about it off of somebody's twitter or facebook.

Posted by: enorwich89 | November 9, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse


You're an excellent writer! You make your points so clearly, all you need are a few links and you could be a professional blogger.

Oh, and you might consider using more paragraph breaks to make it easier to read on the screen.

The point of Petri's article is summed up in her Venn diagram. There are an awful lot of people who really like Conan's humor, but don't like talk shows. He could reach a much larger audience if he used a different format, like John Stewart's Daily Show, for example.

I liked to watch Jay Leno back in the dark ages, but I usually fell asleep when the self-involved actress appeared in the short skirt, sat down on the couch, and displayed her bare thigh profile. I sometimes watched a little Conan when I woke up to brush my teeth, as long as I didn't see another bare thigh that didn't belong to Conan.

I watched Letterman a few times hoping that Drew Barrymore had started a "flashing" trend, but all that followed was thigh, thigh, and more thigh. I stopped watching after I woke up the kids two nights in a row by screaming obscenities every time Paul Schaffer opened his mouth.

Then, after Jimmy Fallon's opening show, which consisted of a one hour interview with Robert Di Niro where he said a total of 4 words ("You talkin' ta' me?), I swore off talk shows forever.

I also am not a Twitter fan. I even started #TwitteratiRTwits. And I only Facebook when I'm in the mood to "poke" someone who is not a queen (not that there's anything wrong with that).

So Conan, please. Talk shows are tired! You don't have to tweet. You don't have to face the book. You don't even have to start a fake news show. Just give us a show without any damned, bare thigh profiles... unless it's your thigh, of course. And the only guests you have should do this:

Oh, and let me have my divtune YouTube ID back so I can post your new show for you. It'll be a hit!

Posted by: divtune | November 9, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Ms. P,

I know you're on deadline, but you forgot to fill in the [title of show] of the musical where you found those lyrics. I'll give you a mulligan for it this time, but don't let it happen again.

I'm not going to do your work for you by giving you the title. Look it up! But here's a video of the entire song, "Nine people’s favorite thing."

Posted by: divtune | November 9, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Thank heavens above--finally some admission in the media that there are people that DON'T actually enjoy late night talk shows, full stop.

Watching celebrities contractually obligated to do publicity to sell movies telling fake anecdotes they've been taught to their publicists to clownish hosts that have to laugh as though everything the celebrity says is uproarious--not my idea of winding down after a long day.

Posted by: merkytimes | November 10, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Thank heavens above--finally some admission in the media that there are people that DON'T actually enjoy late night talk shows, full stop.

Watching celebrities contractually obligated to do publicity to sell movies telling fake anecdotes they've been taught by their publicists to clownish hosts that have to laugh as though everything the celebrity says is uproarious--not my idea of winding down after a long day.

Posted by: merkytimes | November 10, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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