- OH, COCO: In the middle of the night, they call his name.
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN
10:30 p.m., through Friday, Jan. 22
If we have to pick teams, I'm on team Coco. But I doubt I'm alone in not really caring about the fate of “The Tonight Show” or any other late night property. The appeal of flipping channels is lost on me in a world of DVRs and Netflix streaming and Hulu and whatever the next thing they come up with to make it easier to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it. Late-nighters only work when all you've got is flipping channels. A nightly hour-and-a-half live show built around celebrity guests of varying appeal inevitably, no matter the host, is often going to suck. And when it doesn't suck — when the Roots play “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” or when Jessica Biel comes onstage on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” or Sarah Silverman reveals that she's f'ing Matt Damon — we know that we'll just be able to catch it the following morning on the web.
But NBC's recent catastrophic error in judgment has almost made late-night TV relevant again. Even though the best bits of monologues are being saved to online video now more than ever, this has been such a train wreck it's almost like watching sports, potentially thrilling enough to stick to in real time.
For instance, did you catch Jimmy Kimmel, in a video interview with Leno, take Conan's side by saying, “We have children. You've got $800 million. For God's sake, leave us alone”? Or Ricky Gervais start his interview with Conan by promoting his new projects in about 10 seconds and then spend the rest of the interview cursing and bad mouthing NBC? Brilliant.
Likely never again will we have an opportunity to witness such a public implosion of a major television network. And, sadly, if the news of the no-bad-mouthing clause in Conan's severance deal proves to be true, O'Brien's short run on “The Tonight Show” will probably end in hugs instead of a great fireball of anti-NBC jokes. But it seems worth watching just in case.
— Lindsey Millar
8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22
The SyFy Channel
?For those of us like Yours Truly who have suffered “Battlestar Galactica” withdrawal since the series finale, the new prequel “Caprica” is likely approached with both hope and dread. Spin-offs are, in general, a terrible idea — mostly the product of a peripheral character getting caught in the pop culture spin cycle and becoming as big or bigger than the show that spawned them. “Caprica,” however — if the two-hour extended pilot you can watch for free over at Syfy.com is any yardstick — is different. Set 58 years before the robot-initiated nuclear holocaust that winds the key on “BSG,” “Caprica” deals with a world that Battlestar fans have so far seen only in flashback and shadow. It's a world of technological marvels, where a would-be Frankenstein named Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) strives to build a mechanical Golem called a Cylon. The pilot begins with a horrendous act, with a young suicide bomber from a monotheistic cult performing a galvanizing act of terror. Graystone's daughter is on that train, and he sets out to play God (or, in this case, a god) and bring her back. The results of that quest eventually alter the course of humanity. Though I don't like a lot of episodic TV, I'm just as hooked on “Caprica” as I was from the first episode of “BSG.” Overall, the series looks to be making an attempt to pray over some deeper topics that clearly underpinned the “BSG” universe but never quite rose to the surface — among them: religion, race/racism, religious fanaticism, scientific over-reaching, nationalism and the soul. In short: a load smarter than your average science fiction series, with slick visuals and dynamite writing. Definitely worth a look.
— David Koon