Checking in with Conan in its ‘Dusty Middle Innings’

When Conan finally returned to television with his eponymously named show on TBS, many critics were disappointed that he failed to follow the narrative they had constructed for him. The narrative was this: Conan, with his off-the-wall sensibility, was never a good fit for NBC at 11:30, and his modest attempts to broaden his act for a more mainstream audience failed both to connect with the Leno crowd and satisfy the hardcore, Masturbating Bear-loving Conanites. By moving to TBS, where rating expectations would be significantly lower, Conan would be able to reinvent the format and let his proverbial freak flag fly. Instead, that first week of Conan looked an awful lot like a late-night talk show. To me, the notion that a new Conan show would be fundamentally different from past Conan shows was completely misguided: Expecting him to be inventive within the format is reasonable; expecting him to radically alter it would be entirely out of character.