Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Conan O'Brien, folk hero

TMZ is reporting that Jay Leno has made a new deal with NBC, giving him back The Tonight Show. As someone who's always been a fan of Conan O'Brien's work, it's disappointing to see him leaving, but I'm sure he'll land on his feet wherever he winds up.

I've always been fascinated by late night television from my days staying up far too late for my age to see Johnny Carson with my dad, and it's a fascinating spectacle to watch as the landscape changes once again.

CBS's David Letterman is geeking out along with me, explaining the situation well:

I had the chance to see Conan's show live a few years ago, back when he was still hosting Late Night in New York City. Hilary Swank, Steve Harvey, and the Promise Ring were the guests, but while the amusing chatter has been lost to the mists of my memory, the part that stuck with me was Conan's interaction with the crowd before the show started. He easily connected with the crowd, as I'm sure he does every night, and I'm glad I was able to see Conan O'Brien in that era of his career.


My American Idol confession

I have a confession to make. I auditioned for American Idol.

No, you probably didn't see me on TV, and I never got to meet Simon, Paula, Randy, or even Kara or Ellen. I was part of the great swath of mediocrity that gets cut in the first round, neither great enough nor awful/horrifying/crazy enough to make it past the initial cattle call. (Although, I did get to see Seacrest, making time to appear at the audition even with the 23 other jobs he has.)

Despite my failure, I still love the show and go out of my way to check it out. Yes, it's a reality show manipulating you into an emotional frenzy for the sake of corporate profit. None of these facts take away from the fact that it brings millions of people joy, as well as fulfilling a handful of dreams.

It's also a show that brings people together. With the Internet, cable, and everything else taking away from the power of network television, it's one of the few shows out there that brings a sizable percentage of the American public together in a shared experience. People love it or hate it, but everyone has an opinion on it. I know that I'll be calling my mom for the next few months to share thoughts on the show, talking about our favorites, why this performance was amazing and why that person is clearly tone-deaf, and getting wrapped up in the excitement and silliness of Idol.


Roger Ebert and Twitter

Roger Ebert tragically lost his ability to speak several years ago due to complications from thyroid cancer, but he's still "speaking" online, both via his Web site and on Twitter as ebertchicago. He remains one of the best writers about film, as well as offering interesting insights about the rest of our world. I highly recommend checking out his work.

On a related note, I've recently found a few more of my favorite pop culture figures on Twitter doing an excellent job, including comics legend Stan Lee, piano rocker/Sing-Off judge Ben Folds, and How I Met Your Mother star/awards show host extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris.

The Internet was supposed to be the great democratizer of media, and then it was blogs, then Twitter, but once again mainstream stars are becoming the ones with the huge follower counts. Of course, great content can make anyone a star, and there are certainly those who've broken out on Twitter and elsewhere on the Internet, like another personal favorite, Felicia Day.


New media team takes over studio, goes to prison

Usually the new media team works behind the scenes to give you the words, images, and code that comprises our website. Today a few members of the team went on a little adventure of sorts. Under the watchful eye of Frank Stoltze, we went into the studio to record some audio for an upcoming piece about prisons... and wound up as prisoners!

You'll have to listen to find out the whole story. Keep your ears to the radio and you may hear the voices of the people behind the website.

I love my job and what I get to do for the website, but for a public radio geek like myself there was a certain thrill wearing the headphones and staring down the barrel of that big fuzzy microphone.


The Freakonomics of UC raising tuition

I'm currently reading Freakonomics, so I was interested to see an entry on the Freakonomics blog at the New York Times' Web site about the increase in undergraduate fees at the University of California. Ian Ayres, who's also been a commentator for Marketplace, takes a contrarian point of view as Freakonomics often does, arguing for why the increase may not be such a bad thing for students.

Freakonomics Blog: Why California’s Tuition Hike Might Be a Good Thing