Archive for kelsey grammer

Conan The Destroyed

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV History, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2013 by Tom Steward


After weeks of speculation, as much of it on-air as off, NBC finally announced this week that Jimmy Fallon would take over hosting duties on The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. The network press release clearly stated that Leno had presented The Tonight Show uninterrupted for 21 years. But when interviewed Leno said ‘this time it feels right’ as if he had been replaced before and somehow managed to take back the host seat. Of course, if you’re not party to the Stalinistic effort to re-write late-night television history, you’d know there was a spindly-legged ginger elephant in the room.

The George Lazenby of late-night talk shows.

In late 2009 Fallon’s predecessor on Late Night with… Conan O’Brien took over from Leno as host of The Tonight Show having been promised the position years earlier by NBC while The Jay Leno Show began airing in primetime. In early 2010, the network attempted to move O’Brien from the current timeslot of 11.35pm to after midnight so that Leno could return to the original The Tonight Show spot with his new talk show following low ratings for both programmes. O’Brien naturally refused and left the network, leaving Leno free to return to his old job for four more years.

So who presents The Tonight Show?

Fallon taking over The Tonight Show only a few years after Leno resumed hosting is the latest in a series of slaps in the face for O’Brien, who after an aborted late-night talk show on Fox ended up with a signature 11pm vehicle on basic cable network TBS in late 2010. Prone to making light of his unexpected obscurity-his house musicians on Conan are self-effacingly named ‘The Basic Cable Band’-the melancholy sometimes seeps through. While comically feigning ignorance during an interview with Kelsey Grammer following a discussion of not getting recognition for doing cable television, O’Brien starts seeming genuinely forlorn.

O’Brien may have been written out of the Tonight Show story but he remains legendary in the history of another great American TV institution, The Simpsons. As writer and producer for the series between 1991 and 1993, O’Brien scripted some of the most undisputedly superb episodes the show has seen in its 24 years on the air (and, let’s face it, will ever see). In particular, ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’ in which Springfield invests in an ill-advised public transport system was a satirical highpoint with probably the best-written celebrity cameo (a tediously anecdotal Leonard Nimoy) and unbeatable dialogue and song-writing.

Other canon-worthy Simpsons classics penned by O’Brien include ‘Homer Goes To College’ and ‘New Kid on the Block’ which pioneered a sophisticated, self-reflexive humour for the show without losing the emotional resonance synonymous with the series from the outset. In fact, Bart’s unrequited crush on teenage babysitter Laura (Sara Gilbert) is positively heart-breaking. He created several characters, such as Ruth Powers (Louise to Marge’s Thelma) and the college nerds, who would return in future episodes. He might even be able to sue the creators of The Big Bang Theory for plagiarism. Perhaps that’s why TBS wanted him at the network.

‘You’re a lot less funny in live-action’

Despite a criminal lack of exposure for a comedian of his calibre, TBS’ Conan is more excellent TV from O’Brien. His sketches remain thoroughly witty and laugh-out-loud funny, as recent spoof discussion segment ‘PopeTalk’, which evaluated the chances of various contenders for the papacy in the manner of a talk radio sports phone-in show, attested. Many recurring bits, such as ‘Celebrity Survey’ in which projected celebrity Q&A responses are collated, seem like they’ll be around for decades to come. After only a couple of years on the air, we’ve seen some memorable interviews, not least a weird-off with Harrison Ford.

Conan: You ever think with all your flying, what you would do if the plane starts to go down?/Ford: Shit and die.

I don’t want to disparage Fallon as much as I want to praise O’Brien. Fallon’s skits and impersonations are first class, as his performance of Neil Young singing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme tune amply demonstrated. In The Roots, Fallon has at his disposal not only the coolest house band in late-night television but also one of the finest hip-hop/soul outfits of modern times. Fallon’s emphasis on music and sketch comedy undoubtedly gives the late-night talk show a new dimension. But while O’Brien is a skilled, engaging interviewer, Fallon seems more like a teenager who has won a competition.

Class act that he is, O’Brien broke his silence on Fallon’s appointment yesterday only to endorse him and wish him well. He’d have been within his rights to lambast Fallon for taking his job. And call Leno a massive dick…but then there’s never a bad time and place for that.

Christmas TV: The low-low-lows

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, BiogTV, Reviews, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2012 by Tom Steward

Christmas is a time for being trapped at home. Naturally, the choice medium of the housebound-the television-comes into play to provide mental escape from physical confines, as a side dish to gluttony, and because, like Eat-Me Dates, it is there and demands to be consumed. Demographically-desperate TV channels are sure to know about this literally captive audience and yet it often seems schedulers pay less attention to the festive period than they do their nightscreens (even the test card changes its kid and midget clown during puberty and pantomime season). It’s a response to the crisis in broadcast television reminiscent of the Fiscal Cliff; ignoring opportunities to prevent impending austerity until the situation gets so desperate that either television ceases airing at Christmas or the stations compromise and show a torn-out magazine photograph of Bing Crosby for two weeks. So how has TV cancelled Christmas? Here’s some of the low-low-lows:

1. Shows about old comedy

When G was here last Christmas every comedy programme we saw was a) a documentary b) about comedy from at least twenty years ago and c) featured men dressing up as women. If funds were directed towards making memorable new seasonal comedy instead of commissioning tribute shows that are the television equivalent of trapped wind, then perhaps we’ll have something other than nostalgia to be nostalgic for in twenty Christmases time. In an episode of King of the Hill, Peggy tries to explain the sophistication of British comedy to Bobby, whose response is ‘Why’s that man wearing a dress?’. G may well have asked the same question. It is not one I can answer, having been born in the 1980s.

2. Channel 5’s Scrooge

Scrooge in the form of a colouring book.

After showing every single made-for-TV movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol during the Christmas holidays, including one starring Kelsey Grammer that looks like a Frasier dream sequence, the UK’s leading Hitler documentarians Channel 5 try to redeem themselves every Christmas Eve by showing the 1951 Alastair Sim original. However, to add insult to injury, they choose every year to show a colourised Turnervision version of the film where the colour schemes have been taken from a box of Quality Street. The haunting black-and-white of the film is lost to garishly misjudged colours that would seem gaudy in Yellow Submarine. It’s been so many years now it can’t be an oversight, just a slight tantamount to putting lipstick on Dickens’ corpse.

3. Christmas line-ups

Christmas is a ritual of ruttish repetition and the line-up of programmes on TV tends to follow suit. Now I’m not saying we should have Adam Curtis documentaries about caged turkey farming in the middle of Christmas day but since we know the kinds of programmes that are going to turn up each year, why not re-jig them a little for the sake of novelty? They’ll doubtless be a seasonal special of an obsolete sitcom, a premiere of a film that has been watched in every conceivable medium (including cave art), and a freak edition of a programme re-formatted to include singing. Can’t we have once have a different set of names to make the purchase of a Christmas Radio Times worthwhile?

4. Christmas advertising

‘You may leave the kitchen to present the turkey but return immediately or I’ll lamp you’

If you’re boxed in for Christmas, chances are you’ll have to witness some hefty seasonal TV advertising. These are all-or-nothing flagship campaigns for British stores, brimming with celebrity, extraneous art direction and turkey ham-fisted attempts at cinematic grandeur. Or at least they were. The theme this year has been budget-consciousness, with high-end supermarket Waitrose giving us a bare set and donating filming money to charity and middle-range shop Asda giving us snapshots of everyday family life at Christmas. Except Waitrose’s spread-the-wealth ethos says nothing about reducing advertising costs to make food more affordable and Asda’s vision of family life is so horribly sexist it could be storyboarded from a Victorian manual for women. Extravagant or sincere, TV advertising still loses the public.

5. No Christmas Ghost Stories

Midnight Mass will never be the same again!

Britain has a long, weird and slightly sadistic tradition of using Christmas TV to scare the shit out of people. Throughout the 1970s BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas with its adaptations of classic supernatural yarns delivered with brutal realism chilled the nation to the bone and some later homages to these ho-ho-horror stories, such as The League of Gentleman Christmas Special showed that at Christmas we need to be afraid, no matter what Bob Geldof and Midge Ure might say. But alas, and thanks in part to a frankly rubbish revival of Ghost Stories that looked like it was filmed on a special camera left over from the CSI set, they are deceased and haunt us from a DVD afterlife.



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