Pdawg’s Webtrotting: Late Night Goes Online

Back with another week of Webtrotting. This week marked a significant moment in television history with the debut of Conan O’Brien as the fifth host in the 55-year run of NBC’s The Tonight Show.

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I have very fond memories of watching the Johnny Carson version of the show. Even as a toddler, I was a bit of a late night owl and there were many nights when my mom would let me watch Johnny’s monologue before ushering me off to bed. Carson was king…there will never be another. As I got a little older, I can remember the excitement of sifting through the Saturday morning newspaper to find the thick and glossy TV Guide (not quite the same experience these days). I would flip through the pages to find the 11:35 p.m. listings for The Tonight Show in an effort to plan out my week and decide which guests were worth staying up late to watch. Other than the TV Guide, the rest of The Tonight Show experience was a bit of a mystery. There was no internet, no paparazzi and Carson himself was a bit of a recluse when not seated behind the desk.

Times have certainly changed, and with the arrival of Conan NBC has launched a fairly extensive online destination to help build the fan base for the new show. Visiting www.thetonightshowwithconanobrien.com is like taking a guided, behind-the-scenes tour of the show and show-making process. The site features the standard elements such as an episode guide, video and photo pages, bios and a link to the NBC Store where you can purchase Tonight Show T-shirts, hats and even a replica of the mug Conan uses on the show.

The site also has an excellent video player with featured content from recent shows (all three of them to date) and an interactive calendar that lets you know who’s scheduled to appear on upcoming episodes (just like the old TV Guide).

The show has also hired a blogger named Aaron Bleyaert as The Tonight Show Insider to provide daily behind-the-scenes updates. So far he’s done a great job capturing the backstage vibe leading up to the first show and throughout the first week. The Insider also posts exclusive photos and video of some of the more quirky elements that go in to putting the show together. Bleyaert is also running the show’s Twitter page @nbcconan which features daily Tweets on guests and other happenings at the show’s Universal Studios headquarters. The site also features a robust Message Board with forums on a number of topics ranging from guest suggestions, criticisms (already?) and sketch ideas.

All these excellent features help engage the viewer, now a multimedia savvy consumer, with The Tonight Show brand for more than just one hour each night. It’s great to see that even the major network executives realize that in 2009, you need a fully-integrated online community to make a show work – even a show as deeply entrenched in our collective psyche as The Tonight Show. Just producing an hour of entertaining television every night isn’t enough anymore. It will be interesting to see how much the new Tonight Show leverages the web over time. If Tuesday night’s Twitter Tracker segment is any indication, Conan O’Brien’s version of the show is clearly The Tonight Show 2.0.

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