The Final Frontier: The Stuff of Legend

I don't know what's geekier about the following link, the actual photo or the argument that gets going in the comments section over uniform colors. (For the record, these are clearly Next Gen era, making command red.)

The Final Frontier

Sidebar: As I type this, I'm watching an episode of X-Files, as the credits just rolled...the name of the director appeared, Cliff Bole. Guess what else he directed from time to time? Next Gen. Coincidence? I think not.


Donde Esta Conando? or Why Conan Matters to Us

Dewey Nicks for The New York Times

It's 12:30am on a Tuesday. I'm not asleep. Why? I'm bummed there won't be any new episodes of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.

No. I'm beyond bummed. I'm sad. I'm...disturbed? I need to unpack this.

I'm a fan. In the nineties, my oldest sister introduced me. I was just a kid. A little night owl. I wandered into her bedroom and saw her laughing face illuminated by the glow of her tiny, boxy camping tv. He was doing a remote about truck driving. I was hooked. In my house, we were raised on Danny Kaye, so there was a sense of familiarity about this tall, witty goofball.

As Conan bid us adieu, he said the work he does is just comedy. The Tonight Show is just another television show. He was frustratingly mature.

With everything happening in the world right now, there really are better causes. I can't argue with that. We've been riveted by Haiti coverage and are definitely doing what we can...though it's not much. Certainly not enough.

But it's also possible to have two feelings simultaneously. Concern for world matters and bittersweet feelings about The Tonight Show are not mutually exclusive. And here I am, up past midnight, feeling...sad. That's a mysterious ellipsis. It keeps showing up in this article. Why do I feel like I can't say I'm sad? Why do I feel the need to offer so many disclaimers? Whether I should or shouldn't feel this way is a moot point. Because I do.

I've been trying to put my finger on why exactly. Why is important. Why always matters. So let's catalog:
  • Conan is hilarious.
  • His writers are great.
  • He really does have the best band in the history of television.
  • Andy is the icing on the comedy cake. (Andy Barker P.I. canceled but not forgotten.)

But. There's still something else.

Since the dawn of television, each generation had its turn with The Tonight Show, a time to steer the cultural ship. Conan is the host of my generation, of our generation. I was eleven when he took over Late Night. Conan was a presence in my life through jr. high, high school, college, and into my early adulthood.

Sitcoms and dramas go on hiatus, films are in theaters for a fleeting moment. But the late shows, ah, they're on almost every night, give or take a few weeks throughout the year. They're sharing current events with you. Like news anchors, they're along for the ride.

For me, Conan was a litmus test. I almost hate to say something like this, because it makes me sound like I take all my emotional cues from a TV show. That's not it. I'm a big consumer of news and a careful one at that. I'm invested in world and current events. But there was something relaxing about knowing you could turn your TV on every night at 12:30 (and 11:30 for the past seven months) and have a kind of...gauge.

If Conan was making jokes, there was a sense that everything was going to be okay. A calm. Through wars and economic crises, if Conan was showed up onscreen and made jokes, it felt like things were normal. When they weren't normal, we processed them together.

If he took a moment (or an entire show) to stop and be serious, then maybe it was time to panic. Just a smidge.

Conan is a national mascot. A generational touchstone, like Carson and others before him. He's even living the experience of finding uneasy footing because his predecessor won't leave. Something people my age can certainly understand.

After the recession, many people stalled retirement. After college, I met with a much less friendly job market than my parents did at my age. At least, that's how it felt. 

Conan will land on his feet. I have no doubt. In the meantime, we'll wait and see what he does next. But now that all the hysteria is over, all the buzz, the final Tonight Show, there's a new kind of sadness.

We were robbed of our Tonight Show. I know NBC is a big private company. They can do what they please. I'm not as entitled as I sound. I'm making a commitment not to be cynical about it, as per Conan's request. But there's a surprising grieving process that, quite frankly, is taking me by surprise.

There's something personally offensive about Conan's cancellation. As a twenty-seven-year-old woman ready to build my own career...it almost feels like they canceled me. Ridiculous as this sounds, I hope it's not a harbinger of things to come. An old guard who will refuse to go. A group who'll stall progress.

To anyone out there who doesn't understand all the fuss over Conan, that's okay. You don't have to. But there's more going on here than millions of whiners and malcontents. There's a cultural shift. We lost something we thought we were going to have for years to come, a Tonight Show that appealed to our sense of humor and our worldview, fronted by our host.

All those years we spent having to go to bed early while the grown-ups watched Carson, and now we're finally old enough to stay up, and...

That mysterious ellipsis.

Edited on 5-31-18


Conan O'Brien, I Love You

Several months ago, I wrote this for ForcesofGeek.com. I'm so sorry that my fears, as it turns out, were very realistic. This is my column from February 2, 2009.

"Late Night with Conan O’Brien will soon cease forever, as he moves on to take over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. I’ve been wondering how Conan will adapt and whether or not it will affect his whole, shall we say, “vibe”. 

I wonder if he’ll be able to keep that trademark randomness in his monologue and sketches. I fear that the 11:30 crowd might not “get” Conan the way his current fans do. I fear our pale force hero will get a permanent sunburn living in California.

In fact, I fear a lot.

I’m pretty neurotic when it comes to change. I’m like the female version of Billy Crystal from When Harry Met Sally. Only I manage to find time to fixate not only on my own impending demise and the state of the world at large but also to worry about famous celebrity talk show hosts and how they’ll weather a change in time slot or a new city. It’s all selfish really, I think Late Night with Conan O’Brien is a near perfect specimen of a talk show. I don’t want it to change.

I can just picture Conan sitting in front of some kind of stuffy network tribunal while they analyze his past work like a bunch of corporate John Maddens. Telling him what has to be cut now that he’s on at an earlier time, trying to make him more marketable or accessible or some garbage like that.

At first, I thought there should be some kind of crash course introduction to Conan for people who aren’t yet acquainted with his style. Like one of those recap shows they do for LOST. The fundamental concepts of Conan’s humor could be covered in a handy little tutorial.

“This is called the string dance, you see he’s pantomiming that he has a string attached to his hips, then cutting it. Get it? That’s him being self-deprecating, sometimes he drives his desk. What’s that? The dog puppet? Don’t worry he’s not coming, but you really should check out some of his old stuff.”

Then I thought maybe NBC should release some kind of public service announcement recommending that people buy or rent the DVD of Conan’s 10th-anniversary show. Then I freaked out when I heard Jay Leno was going to have a show in primetime right before Conan, thinking it would keep new viewers from becoming acquainted with him. At first, I thought it was insulting. It felt like they weren't really promoting Conan, just pushing the schedule up earlier.

But the other day, I got to thinking. I am the 11:30 crowd. It’s been eight years since I started college and many more years since I first discovered Conan. I can’t imagine that when I was a 17-year-old freshman at Ball State University that I would’ve heard myself say things like, “I love Conan so much, but I wish he wasn’t on so late.”

But I definitely do say that now, fairly often actually. Next thing you know I’ll probably be complaining about how they don’t open their doors soon enough for the early-bird special over at Denny’s. Even if my habits are changing with my age, as is bound to happen, my sense of humor is managing to stay the same. (Yes, as stale as ever with no signs of change.) I have to believe that even though Late Night has only been playing in a small theater big enough for 200 people for the last 16 years that his fan base has snowballed during his tenure.

As much as I fear the changes that have to come from Conan moving from New York to L.A., from 12:30 to 11:30…there’s a lot about the move that's really starting to excite me. I’ll be able to watch much more often now. And why should I begrudge Jay Leno getting a 10:00 show? That just means his loyal viewers get to watch him when maybe they’ve been falling asleep in their chairs trying to make it to The Tonight Show. Just the way I typically can no longer make it to Conan. So...kindness and understanding. I guess.

I’m also remembering a time recently when I sat one of my sisters down to show her Conan’s 10th-anniversary special. That’s the DVD we put on when we have parties or company. I find myself talking to people about it as though I'm trying to win them over to the Hare Krishna cult. She’s about eight years older than me and she laughed hysterically. The entire way through, which just goes to show, good comedy knows no age restrictions. In other words, I believe he'll transfer.

Besides, I’ve got more important things to worry about right now. Like what I’m going to do about the fact that David Letterman and Conan are now on simultaneously. Pardon me while I go ponder the futures of all the employees over at Worldwide Pants.


*Sigh* Now I begrudge both Leno and his fans, and I begrudge them HARD. No matter what happens, I really will follow Conan, and my only hope now is that he stays on the air, some way, somehow. You'll rue the day NBC. Rue it, I say.

READ Conan's official statement here. This man is a class act ALL the way.


Where's The Magnum P.I. Movie? (a.k.a. I'm way too mad about this)

Complaining about franchise reboots is an old person's pursuit. Like shuffleboard. Or the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Network. Both things I love very much.

Therefore, because I am an old, I will now share my feelings.

Feelings about how they could successfully make a Magnum P.I. movie. And rules. I think you'll agree with most of them. But first, a caveat. Because I may be an old, but I'm also a smart. Allow me to prove I'm not beginning with a bias.

I’ve learned my lesson about decrying remakes on principle. Star Trek schooled me on that, six times in the theater alone.

Let's get to the point:

I will not abide a reboot of Magnum P.I., whether it be for film or television. Sequel? Sure. Continuation? You bet. Reboot? That's a big fat nope.

There've been rumblings of a Magnum movie for years. The rumors are always the same. No Tom Selleck. It was Nicolas Cage for a while. Word on the street is Matthew McConaughey has the rights now.

No matter who's attached, I believe there are five rules that should be followed when it comes to movies based on TV shows. Especially as time marches on and the gap grows between those of us who remember Magnum P.I. as a contemporary show and people who only know it as a pop culture reference.

But some of us love Magnum P.I. unironically, thankyouverymuch.

How much? This much:

Anyway, here are my rules…

1.) Don’t reboot a series when the original cast is still willing, ready, and able to do the movie. Unfortunately, not all the members of the original cast of Star Trek are still with us. And by us, I mean the living. Thus, Next Gen was born.

But with Magnum P.I., the gang's all here.* Not only should they NOT recast it, they should stop wasting time letting it linger in development hell and make the movie while they still have the chance. LET PEOPLE BE OLD. It's fine. 

At the very least, introduce a new cast alongside the former, a la Star Trek: Generations. (And now I promise to stop talking about Star Trek.)

Behold, the sweat of legends.

2.) Don’t make a joke out of it.
That’s not to say the movie can’t be funny. The show was funny. But let’s not give it the Ben Stiller, bad wig treatment. Just pick up with Magnum wherever you think he would be at this point in his life and go forward.

3.) The only TV shows that make funny parody movies are the ones that were intentionally cheesy in the first place. There's a fine line between homage and parody. Magnum P.I. may be stylistically dated, but so were The Golden Girls and we certainly pay them the proper respect.

4.) Don’t make the entire movie about age though. Yes, Thomas Magnum is older. But if we’ve learned anything from Harrison Ford, it’s that you’re never too old to get back into the action. Acknowledge the age. Don't dwell on it.

5.) No new kid. No secret son of Magnum. No young pup needing to be trained in the ways of mystery-solving. Just let Magnum be the star. (Though I guess the last episode of the show did set up a daughter scenario. She'd be in her twenties now…so, pardon me while I prepare my headshot.)

It's hardly novel, but here’s what I would do if I were in charge:

Pick up with Magnum in Hawaii now. He’s returned after serving in the military again, working for intelligence. He's now re-retired. The first shot could be him stepping foot on the island.

Higgins inherited the estate from Robin Masters, and has allowed Magnum to move back into the pool house. Maybe Higgins has taken up writing like his old boss. Perhaps he has written a series of mysteries based not so loosely on Magnum’s life.

Every day, he gets the paper and nonchalantly scans it to see what's the haps on the local crime scene. But really, there’s not much to do beyond petty crime and tourist scams. Naturally, he longs for the glory days. He's bored.

Anyway, something big goes down on the island, Magnum is the only one who can help and the fun continues. Yeah, I know it's vague, but I'm just delusional enough to think I need to protect my idea. Writing a Magnum script would be a literal dream come true.

I’m just baffled that the suits are wasting all this time on such a financially viable property. They’re remaking EVERYTHING. Pardon me while I petty for a second. I know I'm not the arbiter of such things, but...so many properties are getting a second chance at getting a new chance at life, especially things that either:

a.) don’t need one (Footloose, Fright Night) or

b.) don’t deserve one (Melrose Place, 90210)

Yeah, I said it. Yes, I liked the new Fright Night. But I don't think it compromises my point.

That's not to mention the fact that so many remakes right now are straight from the 80's, a la G.I. Joe. The time is ripe. But nobody is going to let Tom Selleck do a legitimate Magnum movie? Come on.

It’s like the only way they know how to get things done anymore is to come up with all the worst ideas first and work backwards from there until time runs out and the window of opportunity is closed forever. (Sorry, I'm extra cranky with the Hollywood machine right now considering what's going on with Conan O'Brien.)

Possible directors?

1. Jon Favreau, for his ability to mix action with comedy. But would he do it? Can’t say.

2. Frank Oz handles quirky quite well, but again…not so sure he’d sign on considering his long, rich history with original scripts.

3. Ivan Reitman is familiar with the sensibilities of the originating time period.

4. Anybody know if Ron Underwood is still available?

5. David Gordon Green also has the chops to handle the action/comedy without making it a caricature that will look embarrassing in a decade or so. (Sorry Rush Hour, but you aged very very quickly.)

At this point…I’d happily take a TV movie if it was done by the right people. Not every movie has to be directed for wide audience appeal. Focus on the original fans. Forget about making it a wacky wig* summer tentpole. Maybe it would even be safer that way, fewer people to answer to and easier to stay true to the series.

Secure the original Magnum house. Film in Hawaii. While you’re there make friends with the LOST crew as they film their last season.

It could work. It could genuinely work. So whoever's responsible for the hold-up, knock it off!

*I wrote this eight years ago...rest in peace John Hillerman.
*Man...apparently, I really have a vendetta against wigs.