January 26th, 2010
I enjoyed The Tonight Show As Hosted By Conan O'Brien about as thoroughly as a non-television-watcher could have. It was there, and it made me happy without my even having to see more of it than the occasional highlight on Youtube the following morning. I got the same warm feeling as I did by looking at a black President - I'd see that new shiny blue Tonight Show set, and it just felt like it was finally the future.
I may have only been nine when Johnny Carson stepped off the stage for the last time, and I may not not recall seeing that Tonight Show a single time either, but that name echoes in media history so often it's hard for someone in my generation to not know the show just as the previous generation did: as simply "Carson." The very name is like a historical signpost, and Conan taking over the Tonight Show was more than just a promotion to an earlier time slot - it was a generational passing of the torch. It felt almost like it was our turn, that for once, the most important people in the world weren't in their early sixties and in desperate need of Lipitor. Recognition by old media felt good.
That was the problem. When I did watch any Conan, I did it the same way most of the rest of the generation he most appealed to did: through new media. We streamed it here, we streamed it there, we DVR'ed it and watched it no matter what the hell time it aired, all of which was rather far from the formerly omniscient and supposedly statistically unbiased Nielsen Ratings.
So here's my suggestion to Team Coco: pull a Dr. Horrible. Forget NBC and Fox. (It's not like they don't cancel good shows too.) Might the terms of this oft-mentioned contract be broad enough to cover any kind of filmed thing with Conan behind a desk, or are they specific to television? Google could make money wrapping anything in ads, and they love buying up things nobody thought they had any business buying, pitch a variety show to them! Find a funding model that works, and lets you pull off even weekly the kind of shenanigans you did at NBC nightly, exclusive to the web, and you'll make your own media history.
Edit: From the oh-I-was-just-talking-about-that department - for an immediate and relevant example of how behind the times Nielsen actually is (and the customary bleeding-edge technocentric Slashdot response), look no further than this article about their oh-so-sluggish shift into measuring online television eyeballs.