As streaming content has risen in popularity over the past decade, it’s become clear that the late night talk show format is wildly outdated. And it’s not just outsiders making that observation – veteran television host and comedian Conan O’Brien knows it, too.
Conan’s making some major changes, cutting his hour-long show down to a half-hour starting in 2019. But that’s not all: at a recent event, O’Brien talked about the irrelevance of the traditional late night format and how his show is getting a “radical” reworking.
Variety has several quotes from O’Brien, who spoke at an event this week and explained how he wants to have fewer guests on his show who are only there to hype their latest project. While that format worked in the early days of broadcast television, it “doesn’t make sense anymore” for younger audiences who watch clips of the show on their phones. “They don’t watch Saturday Night Live the way we watch Saturday Night Live,” he said.
So instead of just shrugging his shoulders and continuing to follow tradition, Conan is switching things up. He’s parting ways with his band of over 25 years (watch his touching farewell segment here) and focusing on crafting moments where viewers “can see [him] have fun” on screen. The revamped show will be more “loose” and “playful” than his previous efforts, and he compared the new vibe to a “smaller cookie, [with] more chocolate chips”:
He described a strategy that might allow fans to see him and his team in real time – with streaming-video allowing O’Brien and writers to comment on news and culture in the moment, rather than having to craft jokes or bits that are seen hours later on a linear broadcast. O’Brien said his younger fans are more enamored of that sort of thing, and don’t clamor for bits he was doing decades ago.
I grew up watching Conan, so I’ve always felt like he was “my” late night host among the stalwarts that were working in the ’90s and 2000s. I can’t help but feel a small sense of pride here that Conan is the one who understands it’s necessary to break from long-held traditions and capitalize on his strengths as a performer. The episodes of his show in which he visits foreign countries and throws himself headlong into other cultures have been among the best things he’s done since moving to TBS, and for years I’ve hoped he would announce a full-on travel show. But these new changes indicate that he’ll be around for many years to come, revitalized and ready to reach his fans on their own terms.
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