So what does a man of his stature (no, not just his height) do now? There are the supposed offers from other networks, namely Fox. On a channel like Fox, he’d likely be allowed to bring back the tone from his Late Night days, opting for more obscure humor than he was allowed to do on The Tonight Show (the masturbating bear!). But what’s the likeliness that a brand new talk show – even one from Conan – would have enough success to rival the other networks? Conan would likely have to fight an uphill battle against two late night juggernauts: Letterman and Leno, as well as cult favorite Jimmy Kimmel. If nothing else, he could probably beat Kimmel in the ratings, but Fox's affiliates don't even seem keen on joining the late night world.
He could head back to his writing roots. Before he was chosen out of obscurity, Conan was writing classic episodes of The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live. It's widely know that Conan has always been a writer at heart; he was, after all, the editor of The Harvard Lampoon during his college years. But who could really see Conan taking that kind of step back? It's an idealist's view if there ever was one. We'd all love to see Conan bring The Simpsons back to its prime years or even script a pilot or two, but writing is generally a background position (unless, of course, you're Tina Fey), and it seems highly unlikely that Conan would want to step out of the spotlight completely; he's gotten way too good at performing.
But what seems like the best but least likely and least talked-about option is for Conan to go online. Recently, television has become less regarded as a ‘push’ form of media and has become more of a ‘pull’ form of entertainment, meaning that we choose what we want to see and when we want to see it. We TiVo our favorite TV shows and watch them when it’s convenient for us (after dinner, before school). We stream shows on websites like Netflix, Hulu, and many of the networks’ own websites. We purchase full seasons of televisions shows on DVDs, opting to skip them entirely during their original airing. The internet will eventually suffocate conventional television and it will be those who understand the dynamics of this new era who survive.
Conan plays to a very similar crowd as LaPorte. No, he doesn't pull Leno or Letterman numbers (although with a year or more, he probably could), but he has a very large, specific group of people who will follow him wherever he goes. They're a young, «hip» and tech-savvy crowd, much different from the crowds that normally enjoy late night programming.
So imagine this: an on-demand all-Conan all the time online video database, a place where Conan can post skits, interviews, on-location pieces. He can stream live monologues and archive them for later viewing. He can even have his audience still, albeit in a much smaller soundstage. But who wouldn't sign up to see Conan do his thing in an intimate atmosphere? Late night shows are known for being cheap to produce, and it would be even cheaper to produce them in a smaller set and with less production value. No flashing lights. Only a couple of cameras. Conan can even go back to hosting smaller indie bands rather than junky mainstream acts like Pearl Jam.
More importantly, Conan's fans are made up almost entirely of the social networking generation. When he released his statement on Tuesday announcing that he would not stay with The Tonight Show if it got moved back to 12:05am, Twitter was bombarded with tweets from people joining Team Conan. The support online has been almost unanimous, with very few people coming out on «Team Leno.» The internet is Coco's crowd, so why wouldn't he take advantage of that, even if it means taking a pay cut up front? But Conan won't start an online Conan channel. It probably hasn't even crossed his mind. Moves like this are risky, and even though Conan has more than enough money to try it out, he has no reason to. Television is still safe, and we're still very early on in this transition. But what if he did consider it? What if he did decide to make the move to the interwebs? Just like that, he could singhandedly validate online television. He could make us turn off our TVs and head to our iMacs. No longer would our computers be a novel way of viewing episodes of shows that we missed the night before; instead, our computers could easily become our primary gateway for viewing media.
A couple of weeks ago, Nick Bilton of the NY Times wrote an article about his home television set-up. He ditched his cable company and now pays only for an internet connection and a Netflix account. He connected a cheap Mac Mini to his TV and now gets all of his TV from the internet. Bilton understands that we no longer have to be spoonfed our media. The age of the internet is an age of choice. The future of media is choice. The future of television is choice. And I wish Conan could be the one to lead us there.