Conan, Listen Up

I doubt Conan O’Brien is reading mamawhelming. Just in case, I offer this: Conan, you must change your show, and fast. As in, a new format next week, or those opening-night jokes about the Food Network and Univision might not seem so funny in a few weeks.

When you were on late night, and late-late night, you had the luxury of coming out, spinning around and doing the stringy-hip dance. You do not have that luxury now. You do not have the luxury of schmoozing with the audience.

This is a fan, talking, Conan. Not a rabid, Coco Fan Club fan, rather someone who watched you for years, was glad to see you go to late night and was sorry to see “The Tonight Show” taken from you.

When you were on at 11:30 and later, I often chose your show over others. I could quickly tell if I wanted to watch you or Letterman or “Nightline.” Your energy and kooky rituals and comedy bits were fun.

Now, at 11 p.m., after I see the top story on the local news, I want to give your show a chance. Yet I also know that Jon Stewart is on and he’s funny, amd he’s got something fresh happening right out of the gate. I can see who Jon Stewart is taking on, or I can watch (a now bearded, slightly dejected looking) Conan going through what seem like the joyless motions of the spin and the stringy hip dance — and schmoozing casually with the audience like he’s at a college party. None of that is interesting. It’s not as funny as say, the “Seinfeld” rerun I also can view at 11 p.m.

When you have a  show at 11 p.m., with strong competition, you simply do not have the time to do an old schtick and schmooze. You need an opening sketch or taped bit that’s different every night, from the moment the show starts — not after several minutes of introductory stuff that take a chunk of your show. You have to grab the viewer by the collar the second you’re on the air.

If you haven’t done that, the viewers aren’t likely to come back at 11:30 for the second half of your show, when they can watch Letterman. ( Most of your fans probably won’t be watching Leno.)

Tonight, I switched back and forth a few times between your show, “The Daily Show” and “Seinfeld.” When I switched to yours and saw the dance, I switched away. Then I switched back and heard you say who was on the show, and switched away. I switched back and you were talking about how nice the network was being to you and how much fun you and Andy are having doing the show. (Really? You don’t look like you’re having fun, and the pure fun you were having on the old shows was what drew people to them.) I switched away again, as you were launching into some bit about a show staffer who’s unhappy with the TBS promotions for “Conan.”

You can’t putter at your opening or waste time with long, self-referential yarns.  A new time slot calls for a new format. Good luck, Conan. Hope you get back on your game.

Good TV Moment

It seems with the hundreds of more television networks we have on top of the millions of web sites, the fewer truly noteworthy TV moments we have. I don’t mean manufactured fights on “The View” or a Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. I mean a fresh, human moment, where you think, “Hey, look at that. This is nice. This is good.”

Such a moment happened Thursday night on, of all places, “Late Night with David Letterman.” In some 25 years of watching David Letterman, — 20 of them wondering why he grows more bitter and cold with each passing year of enormous professional success — I finally glimpsed his humanity.

Dave hosted rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena, a down-to-earth (pun unintended), unselfconscious, poetic, unironically clever fellow who charmed Letterman with the retelling of the miners’ ordeal and fortitude.  He stopped by Letterman’s show en route to running the New York City Marathon. Pena, speaking through a lively translator, was utterly engaging, explaining in one moment how he was too uncomfortable at one point in the mine to relieve himself, in another telling what he had done to overcome the mine.

And then, Pena gave an impromptu performance of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” (you know, “We’re caught in a trap …”) Did Pena even realize he was in the same studio where Elvis first performed on American TV? What a moment!

And Letterman, the sarcastic, prickly host who can’t hide his contempt for some of his celebrity guests, was wholly enchanted. He reached across his desk to hug Pena — a full-body, real-love hug. Moment!

While Pena may have a moment or two of celebrity, he doesn’t seem interested in extending it beyond that. He says there will be no trapped-in-the-mine book (this may have been unclear in translation, I assume he spoke only for himself). He said he didn’t expect to be in New York again.

Imagine that.

Letterman’s only regret is probably that he followed Pena’s appearance with Tracy Morgan, who proceeded to make crude, unfunny jokes about the mine story, apparently having missed Pena’s segment, or having dismissed the sweetness of it. Letterman commented at one point, to no avail, that Morgan’s bit wasn’t exactly “in keeping with the spirit of evening.”

Thanks, Letterman and Edison, for a classy conversation. And Dave, why not invite more guests whom you actually like and admire? As we see here, relatively unknown people can be very interesting, and famous ones can be boring. It’s far more engaging television than watching you bristle and fake-laugh at young comedy actors and starlets and insult talented actresses who’ve probably done you no wrong.

The World Turns

“Good night.” With those two words yesterday from Dr. Bob Hughes, “As The World Turns” ended its 54-year run.

Although I hadn’t watched the show in decades and didn’t know the recent story lines, hearing that “As The World Turns” was ending gently stirred my subterranean grief. That is, it made me miss my mom even more.

ATWT was my mom’s show. She shared it with the woman, all but a family member, who cleaned our house and sometimes babysat me. And they shared it with me. I knew all about Bob and Kim and Lisa back in the day.

While I don’t remember this particular day, my mother told me I was sitting on her lap, where she was feeding me, when Walter Cronkite broke into a broadcast to announce that President Kennedy had been shot.

I want to call my mom and L.P. and say, “Can you believe `As The World Turns’ is ending?” They are both gone, though, my ATWT buddies. It’s as if a friend of theirs has died and I can’t tell them about it.

I’m not alone in these feelings. A visit to an ATWT-is-ending message board on a soap opera forum brought the discovery that many people have memories of moms, grandmoms, great-grandmoms and aunts watching this show, and they all tie the show, and its loss, to those women.

One guy(?) wrote that his grandmother had been a big fan and died before he was born, and he felt like he should watch the last episode for her. Another writer said her grandmother, who suffered from dementia, had thought the characters real and talked about them at dinner as if they were.

ATWT, its characters, became part of the fabric of people’s families.

Alas, TV networks and advertisers don’t keep shows around just because they evoke powerful connections to grandmothers who have died. So Kim and Bob and Lisa and John have taken their last turn on that globe.

Good night, ATWT. Nice knowing you.

You Make Bathtime So Much Fun

We’ve talked before about the Vermont Country Store and its newish “intimate solutions” for aging boomers with sagging libidos, or with revved libidos and a desire for personal electronics that purr. All well and good. Nonetheless, I’m not sure what to make of this one — a rubber ducky with dilated pupils, a satisfied smile and a quiet motor, AAA battery not included. Let’s just say the head and tail do things that Ernie’s rubber ducky doesn’t. As far as we know. Then again, maybe there’s more to that “rub-a-dub-a-dubby” than Ernie’s let on. Very discreet, Ernie.

Sweet Dreams

The little girl, talking in her sleep, whispered with urgency: “When is dessert? When is dessert?”

Which brings us to the subject of the family bed. Once upon a time, I scoffed at the family-bed, attachment-parenting folks. Somehow, though, we inadvertently, or maybe purposely, became them, to some extent.  When the little girl’s at school all day and Mommy and Daddy are working, we have to find some time together, even if it’s snuggling in our sleep.

The other day, the little girl, who is four-and-a-half, was describing who would do what when she has her baby. Daddy will sing the lullabies, she’ll change the diapers, I’ll do the feeding. I asked her if the baby would sleep in her bed. To which she replied, “No, I think she’ll like it better in your bed, with us.”

The Knucker Hole

On “Dragon Tales,” the characters in Dragon Land jump into openings in the ground called knucker holes. The name, apparently from dragon mythology,  is weird, the look of them weirder. I saw a knucker hole on the show for the first time just now, and there’s no more accurate way to describe it than a sphincter in the ground. It moves as I imagine a sphincter does, and while I’ve never seen the inside of a rectum, and hope never to do so, the tunnel the characters slide down once inside the knucker hole appears as I imagine a rectum does. (I once saw something like this during a dim sum meal and a grown man at the table announced, with a big smile usually seen on an obnoxiously precocious child, that it was a “cow pooper.”)

I think the “Dragon Tales” artists were having a bit of fun, just as I suspect they did when having the dragons dig frantically through their pouches in search of a whistle or other item. Anyway, the next time some fool in a motor vehicle does something selfishly dangerous, I might be tempted to call him a knucker hole — or would if I were the name-calling, road-raging type. Sounds pretty bad even if you didn’t know it looks like a sphincter.

Everything They Need To Know And Didn’t Learn In Kindergarten

Our nation’s leaders could learn a lot from my four-and-a-half-year-old and her pre-kindergarten classmates. This is no exaggeration. From her wonderful teachers and from well-thought-out educational programs on TV, and from her mom and dad, the little girl has learned a lot about respect and teamwork. She and her friends don’t call each other names. For the most part, they don’t hit or push each other. They like to play together. It’s not always easy for 4- and 5-year-olds to remember to share and take turns and consider each other’s feelings. They try, though, and they’re very sweet and earnest.

Not so the people given the amazing responsibility of governing the United States, not so the extremist pundits or the vein-popping voters these supposed leaders have whipped into a frenzy. It’s all heat and no light. They call each other names. Mean, nasty names. They lie about each other. They tattle on their neighbors for supposedly committing the very violations they themselves have made. Their hatred, resentment and dishonesty are so deep that these leaders no longer lead nor govern. They issue dueling press releases, hold combative news conferences and intimidate each other, or allow themselves to be intimidated, into doing nothing.

They call for cooperation and inclusion, then slam it when it is offered.

What is at stake here?

Everything. Our very Republic. If the leaders and the citizens no longer can respect each other, cooperate, speak honestly, believe each other and engage in a little teamwork toward a common goal, nothing can hold us together.

These guys and gals need to return to kindergarten, sit in the little chairs for a few weeks, fingerpaint, build a town together with blocks and listen to the teacher. A time out is called for, so they can think about what they’ve done and what they can do better. Go to the cozy corner, friends, and get yourselves together.