Harvard TV Titan Talks About Conan, Tonight Show Mess

As the Leno-Conan-Tonight-Show saga intensifies, I decided to get the perspective of a campus broadcast titan. Derek Flanzraich is founder and former president of HUTV (Harvard Undergraduate Television), meaning he has geographical ties to both men (Leno is from Andover, O’Brien from Brookline) and the Conan academic connection (O’Brien’s a Harvard alum).

Derek Flanzraich, Harvard senior, HUTV visionary

Below Flanzraich offers a student viewpoint on the late night madness:

“As Harvard students, we’re obviously pro-Conan O’Brien. Most of us think he was hilarious, with just the right mix of zany and witty humor, on Late Night. The Tonight Show is a different beast, though- and even Leno took more than a year and a half to get truly comfortable in his role.

“Moving Conan after only seven months is unfair to someone who has been told he’d have the support of the network as the future of The Tonight Show for years. Perhaps the problem with The Tonight Show is less Conan not appealing to the audience they’re looking for (we’re told now that it’s the coveted 18-34 demographic and not an older crowd), but more the show’s format itself.

“No one will ever be Johnny Carson– not just because he was brilliant, charming, and fresh every night- but because television no longer functions in the same way. We don’t watch the evening news on NBC- or many of us period. We tune in to see funnier jokes and the guests we want online anytime. The problem with The Tonight Show is it can’t be The Late Show. Jimmy Fallon, despite not being the best comedian, is doing a great job. When he sings karaoke with Amy Adams, when he tweets, when The Roots play- that’s what makes the show compelling to us. And those are exactly the things Conan can’t do on The Tonight Show.

“He’d probably figure something else out eventually but, despite who takes on The Tonight Show now, it’s not the host that’ll get the ratings NBC wants. The show itself needs to change– and, in doing so, old viewers will most likely get alienated because it won’t be the same, watered-down, calm mainstream show that people have loved for decades. Instead, it could be relevant, surprising, and must-see for this generation- just give its host a little longer than seven months to work that out.”

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