Category Archives: Culture

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.

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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.

Dora y Frida

Is it my imagination or is the background scenery in “Dora the Explorer” inspired by the artwork of Frida Kahlo? This would apply to the background only, not the faces, as Dora has no visible eyebrows.

“Why, Mommy?” the little girl asked when she heard me comment to my husband on Dora’s lack of eyebrows. “Why does Dora not have eyebrows?”

“Oh, she probably has eyebrows, honey. I think her hair is hiding them.”

Of course, Dora is generally quite upbeat, and Frida’s works are generally quite disturbing, so there’s little commonality there, even considering the reader in which Dora and Boots jump over a nest of snapping clams. Dora seems to have a happy life, Frida appeared to have an extremely painful one. Dora, however, not unlike Frida, is famously associated with someone named Diego.

Anyway, re the artwork, you be the judge.

Here’s Frida, with monkey, and green leaves in the background.

Here’s Dora, with monkey, and green leaves in the background.

Literature

Note to TV anchorman: Yes, “The Diary of a Young Girl” (aka “The Diary of Anne Frank”) is indeed a classic work of literature. It also is widely read and respected in the United States of America. It is not, however, a “classic of American literature.” Its original published title, in Miss Frank’s adopted Dutch language, was “Het Achterhuis: Dogboekbrieven van 12 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944 (“The Annex: diary notes from 12 June 1942 – 1 August 1944”).

This Is Not Your Grandpa’s Five & Dime

On the shelf at my local chain drugstore, nestled between the desensitizing ejaculation-delaying product Mandelay and a pleasure-enhancing female condom, sits a DNA paternity test — “for the alleged father, mother and child.” For $19.99. Heartwarming stuff, just in time for Father’s Day.

The creams and gels meant to enhance or tame arousal, facilitate or prevent conception, don’t bother me. If someone is willing to drive to a drugstore far from home, where he or she isn’t a familiar face to the clerks, and buy one of these products, more power to him or her. It’s good these items are easily available. Some people might even be willing to buy them from the friendly gals who regularly sell them toilet paper and milk.

That DNA test, though, is another story. When ya gotta know, ya gotta know, I suppose. And I guess it’s good that Joe Q Public can take his saliva into his own hands and find out if he’s a father or merely alleged, without having to subject himself to a clinic or hospital and red tape. It’s a sad commentary on the American family and culture, however, when the paternity of so many “alleged” children is in doubt that mainstream retailers carry products to determine it.

The box bears an abstract, sweepy drawing of a woman happily lifting a baby into the air.

I don’t want to think about the conversations surrounding the purchase, the sample-taking, the waiting for results. The mistrust. The eagerness, fears, anxiety. Regardless of the outcome, does any of it spell happy, wanted, nurtured baby? Stable environment? Maybe?