Say It Aint So Coco: The New Ads on Conan Make Me Weep for the Future of TV

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 19, 2012

From The News Desk

You should watch Conan on TBS. Mostly because I like him and feel badly that his ratings slumped once we all got bored of the Jay Leno outrage. But also because the show contains all sorts of glimpses of the future of television advertising. And that future-- while understandable in a TiVo world-- is increasingly annoying.

Last night, Conan went on what felt like a ten minute sidebar about Dr. Pepper's new soda for men, that's apparently the beverage version of Axe Body Spray. That concept is already confusing. Was Dr. Pepper considered a particularly effeminate brand? And what about ten calories makes it manly exactly?

Conan made Andy do "manly" things in a silly, overreaching skit that seemed to go on and on. You can watch it here. I defy you to laugh. This ad took up prime post-monologue, pre-guest real estate in the show. And it's not over. Conan pushed viewers to the Web site to suggest more manly things he'll make Andy do.

I get it. We fast-forward through commercials. Conan is big online and TBS wants to drive more ad synergies between the show and the site to exploit that. And the station has to do something since Conan's ratings have slumped disappointing advertisers who paid through the nose for up fronts.

But really, Madison Avenue, is this all we've got?

These cheesy break-the-fourth-wall celebrity endorsements have been creeping into television for a few years now. It started with reality TV. "OMG! They gave us a Prius for winning this challenge! I just love the roomy interior, don't you?" I doubt any of our readers have ever watched "The View," but it's hands down the worst. Sherri Shepard does full on dance routines with household cleaning products. (Things you learn on maternity leave.)

But Conan? Conan is supposed to be authentic and cool. He's supposed to be one of us. He's supposed to mock stuff like this. I don't want to be too hard on him, because I want his show to stay on the air. And you can tell he's uncomfortable with it-- he totally overcompensates with goofiness.

Hopefully scripted programming isn't next. Can you imagine Kelsey Grammar cutting away to the camera at the end of Boss and saying something like, "Now that we're done shooting, I'm going to unwind with a  Bud Light. The king of beers for the king of Chicago." *wink*

I'd give Madison Avenue a pass if this was a new or innovative way to advertise, but it's not. This is what variety shows did in the earliest days of television. And these corny ads were phased out for a reason. Let's come up with something better and give Conan a little dignity.