Changing of the Guard

By , 3 June, 2009, No Comment

I have watched the first two episodes of the new Conan-hosted Tonight Show. I always liked Late Night, and this felt more like watching that show at a new time than watching the Tonight Show with a new host. The pilot’s opening montage–of Conan running across the country to reach his new studio in LA–was classic Late Night, and Late Night regular Andy Richter was there to greet him when he arrived. I loved it.

But I was talking to some older co-workers and they were unimpressed. They were born in the ’70s, they graduated college in the 1990s, and Leno’s is the only Tonight Show they were ever really old enough to enjoy. Does anyone at NBC expect them to become Conan-o-philes? Of course not. Instead, NBC is betting that Conan’s core Millenial audience has grown up and mellowed out enough that we’re climbing into bed for our last laugh before midnight rather than at 1 am.

That demographic transition matters because NBC isn’t the only place we see the shift. As a Gen-Xer who appeals to Millenials; Conan lines up perfectly with President Obama. A conversation between Gen X-ers (Conan, the Pres) and Millenials (Conan’s viewers, Obama’s voters) is the new mainstream. The conversation between Boomers (Leno) and X-ers (Leno’s audience) plays second fiddle as a 10 pm lead-in, while the conversation amongst Boomers (Letterman and his audience) faded into oblivion ages ago.

If nothing else, the changing of the Tonight Show guard marks the passage of the Boomers from the center to the sidelines of American life. It’s an odd passage, since the Boomers still make up a third of the population and have two or three decades ahead of them. How could the generation that promised to reinvent politics and culture get such short shelf life on the political and cultural stage? And what are the Boomers to do for the next three decades now that no one is listening?

The lame ones will continue to chant old chants to limited success. Jim Jarmusch’s new movie, The Limits of Control, falls flat in part because its “villain” is “the nameless corporation,” a 1960s motif that doesn’t resonate with Millenial audiences. Though Boomer women (Second Wave Feminists) and X-er women (Third Wave Feminists) continue to do battle on websites like Slate’s new Double X, most Millenials have accepted a middle ground and moved on. And of course, there’s the political collapse of John McCain and Gordon Brown at the hands of X-ers Obama and Cameron.

What’s a Boomer to do when faced with this? The ones with staying power learn to make fun of themselves:

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