Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

NBC Follies, Social Action Plays, Weekend Music and Jonah Hex

The PopCulteer
January 22, 2009

Soon it will be okay to not watch The Tonight Show again.

It’s official. Tonight’s episode of “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” will be the last. NBC, bowing to pressure from the affiliates, has canceled “The Jay Leno Show,” and has decided, not under affiliate pressure, to return Leno to The Tonight Show. Conan will get a huge payout, and will be free to move to another network as early as September.

Once again, mediocrity wins out.

Leno, whose career really took off once he started stealing jokes and screwing over his friends, has seen his nice-guy reputation take a major hit. He’s been exposed as a hypocrite (see the video below from five years ago)

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His self-serving “don’t blame Conan” speech was eviscerated by Letterman the next night (see both clips below).

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It’ll be interesting to see if Leno is able to regain his top spot in late night television, or if he is now perceived as damaged goods, the guy who failed so miserably in prime time that he caused his successor to be fired so he could get his show back. It will also be interesting to see if any of the A-list stars will boycott Leno’s show once he returns. O’Brien is generally well-liked, with some powerful friends and a lot of respect in the business.

The real winner in this is David Letterman, who’s been able to unload seventeen years worth of pent-up frustration over the way Leno stabbed him in the back to get The Tonight Show in the first place. He’s produced his most memorable shows in a long time. This is Letterman vindicated, bitter, acerbic, and funny as hell. Leno has tried to return fire, but his jokes have been so lame and predictable that they only make Letterman look even better.

Letterman can finally cut loose and point out how much of Leno’s act is swiped from Letterman and others (“Jay Walking” is a direct rip-off of an old Howard Stern bit, and Leno even hired Stern’s Stuttering John as his sidekick). Leno is, in fact, such a master of stealing other comedian’s jokes that he’s become a sort of modern-day Milton Berle, only with a different comically-huge body part.

O’Brien will be free to move to another network, probably FOX (unless CBS hires him to do “The Late Show” twice a week) and NBC is once again acting petty and vindictive. They will not allow O’Brien to take the characters he created for his show with him. The ownership of Triumph The Insult Comic Dog is not clear, but NBC owns The Masturbating Bear, Pimpbot 3000 and the bit “In The Year 2000.” NBC did the same thing to David Letterman, who couldn’t use the character name Larry “Bud” Melman for the late Calvert De Forrest.

O’Brien, if he moves to FOX will likely go on the air at 11 PM, which has the potential to hurt local news programs, something that can’t make NBC affiliates too happy after the ratings hit they took having the very weak Leno show as a lead-in. O’Brien will probably do respectably at 11 PM, where his main competition, aside from the local news, will be The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. FOX would be thrilled if O’Brien delivers the numbers he did at 11:35 at NBC, since that would give them a piece of the late-night pie that they don’t currently have.

Even if Leno once again rises to the top of the ratings, this will be seen as an epic miscue on the part of NBC. Leno’s image is tarnished, and he is now going to be a pop culture touchstone for the show business shark who will stab anyone in the back to further his own career. Since he fired Helen Kushnick, Leno has acted as his own agent and manager, so he has nobody to blame for his underhandedness in this mess. If he’d raised a stink over this five years ago, it’d be a different matter, but his little spiel about not wanting the fuss that NBC had “the last time” and his recent “don’t blame Conan” bit show him to be totally insincere.

The end result of this is that NBC, a network that has ruled the late-night time slot for decades, is now pinning their hopes for the future on an aging comedian who has become vilified by the situation, and they have no clear line of succession if he fails, gets sick, or decides to retire. Still, this wasn’t a surprise to everyone.

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You sort of get the feeling that somewhere, Johnny Carson is looking down, saying “Serves ’em right!”

Social Action Plays

The Contemporary Youth Arts Company will present an evening of social action plays– LOVE IS NOT AN ANGRY THING and THE FOREVER CLAUSE—Friday and Saturday, January 22-23, on stage at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers Street in Charleston. Curtain is 8 pm with tickets at $5.50 for students and $9.50 for adults.

Opening at 8 pm, LOVE IS NOT AN ANGRY THING (winner of a 2004 Telly award) tells the story of Tina, a 14-year-old high school freshman who falls in love, thinking it will last forever. But as her relationship with her new boyfriend, Greg, grows stronger, she is forced to give up her best friend, her sports, and everything in her life for him. When she tries to have a life of her own, Greg turns to violence to keep the girl he loves. As her best friend Margie tries to get Tina away, Greg grows more desperate until, finally, on New Years Eve, he loses control for the final time, with tragic results. Local high school students Molly Means and Anna Poole bring this one hour drama to life.

The second act continues with THE FOREVER CLAUSE, a new play on teen sexuality and unwanted pregnancy. When ninth graders Jake, Valerie, Trish and Mike begin high school, they have no idea how their attitudes toward dating, love and sex would change in the next four years. At fourteen, Jake tries to convince Trish that they should have sex on their first date, and then tries to convince his best friend Mike that his new girlfriend Valerie is anxious to do the same thing. After two failed relationships, the quartet spends the next three years growing older, wiser and far more cautious of the dating scene until finally Valerie and Jake rediscover each other with disastrous results. Yet, when Mike and Trish find themselves falling in love with each other near the end of their senior year, it feels as if it’s their true destinies, even though Trish has been accepted to Princeton University and Mike is going to WVU. The future is a dream for them both. But, after a romantic night following graduation, reality steps in when Trish discovers she’s pregnant… The cast forTHE FOREVER CLAUSE include Nik Tidquist, Samantha Oxley, Maria Fioravante and G. Phillip Fisher.

Produced for schools and organizations statewide, the CYAC social action plays are written and directed by Dan Kehde and produced through a partnership administered by Margo Friend, Director of the Adolescent Health Initiative of the United Way of Central West Virginia. This is a great chance (for one weekend only) to catch some of the finest young actors in the area stretching their wings with some meaty material. We’ve seen a lot of the performers in previous CYAC shows, and some of these kids are destined for greatness. If you’re a fan of live theater, you really need to check out these plays.

Live Music This Weekend

Friday night is insane in Charleston this week. There’s great music all over town as many RFC faves are out bringing the noise to area bars.

However, first up for us is Myers and Godfrey’s “Not A Sign Of The Fig” show at Taylor Books cafe tonight at 7:30 PM. You can expect an evening of experimental video and music, with special guests Adrian DeQuiros, Amanda Jane and Phoenix Anding. I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.

Later Friday Night you have your choice of The VooDoo Katz at The Empty Glass, Buckstone at Sam’s Uptown Cafe or Spurgie Hankins Band at Bruno’s. There is a modest cover, except at Bruno’s, where you get in free. Any of those shows will leave you thoroughly entertained.

Saturday night, Ric Cochran and Friends will be at The Bridge Road Bistro, while Chet Lowther and Friends will be at Bruno’s. No cover for either show. The Bistro show starts at 7 PM, while Bruno’s kicks off at 9PM.

Sunday, the place to be will be UUC, where a benefit for the folks in Haiti will start at 3 PM. Suggested donations are five bucks and up. This show will include Ron Sowell, Heidi Muller, Kate Long, The Peruvian Trio, Bob Webb and RFC guests, The Clementines. Call 304-345-5042 for more details.

Cool Comic Of The Week

Jonah Hex is a revival of a Western title that DC Comics first published almost forty years ago. The creation of John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, Jonah Hex told the story of a disfigured ex-Confederate gunslinger anti-hero, clearly inspired by the classic Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. There is currently a major motion picture, starring Josh Brolin, in the works, but many longtime fans of Jonah Hex like to think of “The Outlaw Josie Wales” as a sort of unofficial adaptation of the comic book.

The classic comic really took off after Michael Fleisher started writing the series. Fleisher brought a unusual flare to the series, and wrote one legendary story that flashed forward to show Hex as an old man, being gunned down by a punk kid, then having his body stuffed and put on tour with a “Wild West Show.”

DC Comics canceled the book in the mid-1980s (briefly sending him to the future in a series best left forgotten), and the book was dormant until a couple of Vertigo revivals (by former Dunbar resident Tim Truman). In 2005, DC began a new monthly Jonah Hex series written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, who collaborate with a rotating roster of top-artists like Darwyn Cooke, Jordi Bernet and Dick Giordano, and the book is one of the best-written mainstream comics being published today. There are several collections, and an all-new graphic novel is scheduled to be published in a couple of months. That’s in addition to the monthly book, which is still going strong.

If you want to break free of the super-hero ghetto, check out Jonah Hex. It’s a real treat, one of the first books I read when I get my monthly shipment of comics.

Next week in PopCult.

You can expect more art and videos, some vintage RFC from 2008 and a brand-spanking-new episode of Radio Free Charleston.


  1. Buzzardbilly

    When you hate on Jay Leno, it’s poetry. You rock. I mean that.

  2. Mel Larch

    Something tells me that final episode is going to be epic in every sense of the word. I just hope they don’t tear up the set on air. It’s too cool to be destroyed that way.

    However, if they would like to give it a new, loving home….. *grin*

  3. Buzzardbilly

    It may be the most expensive single talk show ever aired, if they outdo the spending for the $1.5 million “Bugatti mouse” bit. That was priceless.

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