Category Archives: Books and Things You Read

Coco vs. The Chin: A Look Back at a Late Night Fustercluck

Remember early 2010? That was when the Internet brandished its pitchforks against Jay Leno and rallied in support of the embattled Conan O’Brien, who was being demoted only seven months after taking over The Tonight Show. At the time, it seemed so clear-cut to me: Conan was good and Leno was bad.

Thanks to a really in-depth look at the whole fiasco, I can see a few more nuances. That in-depth look comes courtesy of Bill Carter of the New York Times in his book, The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy.

While all this unfolded, I was pretty angry at NBC for trying to have it both ways, and the book just adds to my feeling that this was their fatal error. If they weren’t prepared to let Jay Leno go to another network, why tell him he was retiring in five years? If they weren’t prepared to let Conan do the same, then why promise him the Tonight Show in five years? By scrambling and trying to put Leno on at 10 (9 Central, which is my time zone of residence), they just hurt them both and never really gave Conan a chance to get out from underneath his predecessor.

It actually wasn't time.

Full disclosure: My brother and I grew up watching Conan. My brother liked it first, and in a typical big sister way, I wanted to like what he did, because my brother seemed like The Coolest Person Ever. As I’ve gotten older, my sense of humor has definitely developed to be a lot more like Conan than Jay. As far as the two men are portrayed, Conan comes off as manic but funny, while Jay Leno comes off like a workaholic joke machine, always pumping out jokes, be they funny or not. Leno also hates to be seen as the bad guy, and his team insists he’s not nearly as manipulative as the angry college kids made him out to be. He’s not my cup of tea at all, but I can’t find anything in the book that suggests he’s flat-out evil, either. Sure, he should have either spoken up earlier about how he wasn’t riding off into the sunset or just plain move on, but he’s far from the only one who screwed up in this situation.

One constant point the Leno side brings up is that Conan wasn’t doing well at all in the ratings. That’s true, and it’s hard to know how much was the bad lead-ins vs. not being a good fit. It’s hard not to think that NBC would have given him a little more time to settle in had Leno not still been on the payroll, though.

Another thing Leno did right was play the network game better. He had a pay-and-play clause in his contract, which meant he both had to get paid and had to be on the network a set amount of time. That’s pretty much unheard of in the business. Meanwhile, Team Coco failed to get a time slot guarantee in Conan’s contract, which meant NBC was perfectly within its rights to try to bump The Tonight Show to 12:05 and put Leno at 11:35. This doesn’t come across as a very well-thought out plan, more a last ditch effort to once again not pick a side. Few people in the NBC hierarchy come off well at all here, notably Jeff Zucker, who comes off like a bumbling prick.

The book came out in late 2010, and with the benefit of hindsight, it seems like The Tonight Show may have just been too mainstream for Conan. At his best, Conan is a little edgier and darker and out there, and that’s not going to play well to a lot of audiences. I like humor that makes people feel a little uncomfortable, because life seems a little uncomfortable, but obviously that’s not going to work for everybody.

Also mentioned in the book are other late-night hosts, including Fallon, Letterman and Kimmel. It’s interesting how similar Conan and Letterman seem, with the notable exception that Conan has managed to eliminate the self-loathing enough to have what seems like a functional personal life. Letterman comes off as brusque and kind of a jerk, but also incredibly hard on himself. Conan has those moments, too, but Conan wasn’t the one who matter-of-factly told a studio audience that someone tried to blackmail him with the threat of going public about affairs he’d had with members of the Late Show staff.

So, a funny thing happened today...

This is way too long already, and I haven’t even touched on some of the stuff, like how Team Coco was reluctant to bring Sarah Palin on the show after she publicly called out Letterman. That further upset already anxious executives. Just read the darn book. It’s on Amazon for less than $11, and might be at your local library as well. If you’re a pop culture and entertainment industry nerd like me, I think you’ll love it.


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VF opts for dead people over Mad Men.

Well, I understand why they did it. Two very famous people died the same day (which also happened to be the day before my birthday, to make it all about me).

But, if at least one report is right, Vanity Fair was planning on slapping the cover of Mad Men on the September cover, which is also “The Style Issue.” Nothing against Farrah and Michael, but it feels a bit odd to see “The Style Issue” next to “FALLEN ANGEL” and “FALLEN KING.” Then, these two died, and well, they decided to ship out two covers.

I stopped subscribing to VF because it was boring me and annoying me, often simultaneously. Plus, I hate auto-renew and will do just about anything to avoid it. One exception was when I got a subscription to Entertainment Weekly for $10. They sent me a notice that they’re renewing it for a still-very-reasonable $20, but they think wrong, as I’ve gotten a new debit card since then. Muahaha. OK, </tangent.

As insufferably snobby as VF can be, I'll probably buy this issue (although hopefully the interviewer won't be as much of a jerk as whoever interviewed Jessica Simpson a few months back. If Bruce Handy starts calling Christina Hendricks fat, I'm pretty sure a few thousand men and women would be willing to defend her honor). Also, they never seemed to get that it was not a requirement to photograph all the female starlets in the strategically-placed buff. The same was never expected of the men, of course.

I just started watching Mad Men, finally, after months of admiring it without ever seeing more than a few minutes of it. I like it. It’s perhaps quieter than your normal TV show-no explosions or zany antics-but still quite enjoyable.

How does the cover change affect whether you will or won't buy VF? And which cover do you prefer? I'll probably look for the Farrah one, since I've seen enough Michael Jackson covers lately.


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Jodi Picoult: Literature’s M. Night Shyamalan?



Hello, welcome to the Breaking Blues Book Club. Or something. Today’s topic: Picoult, Jodi. People who have read her frequently, or even just read more than one book by her, tell me if she’s any good or not. I mean, here’s my thing with the book I have read, Plain Truth: I was riveted and couldn’t stop reading, then I got to the end and it didn’t make any sense to me. It felt like she wanted to do a twist ending, and so she did. I know all fiction is contrived, but really good stuff doesn’t feel contrived, in my humble opinion.

But I see her books every-freakin’-where. At Wal-Mart, which doesn’t carry many fiction books, much less ones by the same author. They seem to have three or four or more of her titles consistently. Target has probably a half-dozen or more.

I was looking for spoilers for some of her books on Wikipedia, to see if others sounded contrived. Yes. They did. Notably Change of Heart. More so the plot in that one, the ending didn’t sound that bad. But there was also a twist that I looked at and thought, “Huh?” And the description for her new book makes me want to throw things-what mother does that? If you don’t know what that is, read some of the Amazon reviews or something.

So tell me your thoughts on her endings. Good, bad? What do you recommend, and what do you stay far away from? I may never even try another book by her; I still feel kind of burned. But do tell, as I try to ignore yet another promo for that insufferable-looking Miss March movie. I know Miss March, and you, Playboy lady who your coma boyfriend didn’t get to deflower, are no Miss March.


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Courting Trouble

At the moment, I am deeply immersed in a book that I could probably not have read before Nov. 4 without crying.

The book? The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. I’m sort of a politics nerd anyway, and this book is just amazing for anyone interested in the Supreme Court. I’m transfixed by it. It has great details about all the justices. It kind of makes me love Sandra Day O’Connor. But then, she disappoints me. Most of the justices do in the section devoted to Bush v. Gore. Toobin concludes that the Bush side was willing to fight dirty and do whatever it took to be declared the winner, even if they didn’t have the most votes. They came out fighting. The Gore side fought, but well, it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t circumvent Katherine Harris, who could have let the recount continue, but decided to just declare it all said and done after a week. She certified the results even though court challenges and recounts were pending. Continue reading


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2008: Were you not entertained?


So EW just came out with its annual Entertainers of the Year list. Some of the 25 are good, inspired choices. Others are not. I’m going to make some comments on the good/bad ones, while ignoring the ones I have no strong opinions about. And to reign in my blathering a bit, I am permitting myself 15 words or less for each selection.

Choices I Like
1. Robert Downey Jr. – Nice comeback, talented, kinda hot, must Netflix Iron Man.
2. Tina Fey: Funny, genuine, better Palin than the real thing.
10. The Talking Heads: Especially Colbert, Stewart and Maddow. Why no Russert love?
13. James Franco: Pretty and gay (at least in a movie). No wonder I love him.
15. Coldplay: Viva La Vida no masterpiece, but still solid as Barack, whom they love.
16. Elizabeth Banks: Adorable and good choice, despite “Porno” bust.
19. Jon Hamm: Please marry me. Or just compromise me. Must watch more Mad Men.
23. Michael Phelps: Entertaining, but sadly, not on SNL.
25. Neil Patrick Harris: Funny, smart. I’d drink with him, and I don’t drink.

Choices I Don’t
5. Stephenie Meyer: I got enough angst and sexual repression in high school, thanks.
8. The women of Sex and the City: Talented ladies, but annoying, overhyped movie.
9. The Jonas Brothers: Not really “saving it,” but really annoying.
18. Kid Rock: Rock and Roll Jesus makes baby Jesus cry.
21. Katy Perry: Had a career and she liked it, but no staying power whatsoever.

What do you like and dislike about this year’s list? And who did they leave out?


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The Guilt of a Liberal Arts Major

I’m having a problem with literary guilt. I’ve been reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It’s very well-written, and it’s interesting when I manage to pick it up.

Yet lately I have trouble picking it up, and I’ve been working on it off and on for a while now, yet I’m barely a third of the way done. I want to finish it. I feel like I should finish it. Yet I also have a pile of other books that need reading, and I feel like I maybe I should move on. Not all of them as nutritiously literary as Bel Canto, by the way.

Yet, I did that with Wicked, and still feel bad that I didn’t finish it. I was on page 202, and I just didn’t really care to know what happened. I didn’t really care about the characters, so I stopped reading. Sometimes I think I should try again. Yet I know I probably won’t.

What do you do when confronted with something like this? I could just leave the bookmark in Bel Canto, and leave myself open to coming back later while I pick up another book. I’ve been readingĀ  books really slowly lately (but magazines I’ve been tearing through). So another reason I feel guilty, because I read like a maniac through much of college, but now that I’m an adult with a Real Adult Job, it’s easier to just crash with a copy of Vogue or somesuch before I go to bed.

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