Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do

Remember when the biggest media story ever was the Tiger Woods sex scandal? I know, who can even remember back that far, right? It feels like weeks ago.

More recently, our (well, my) attention has been focused on NBC. Unlike the Tiger thing, I actually care about this one. I know I’m usually book gal, but truth be told, I can be just as passionate about television. I get invested in characters and plots the same way I would about those in a novel (hello, Lost anyone?) I’m also an avid follower of all things pop culture, oftentimes regardless of whether I even care (e.g. winners of American Idol and losers of Jersey Shore, despite never watching either show). So, I’ve been staying up until the A.M. fanatically changing the channel from one monologue to the next, seeing who can rip NBC apart in the most clever and biting way. As with most things, Letterman wins.

Now, NBC has always been my favorite network, which contributes to my particular interest in this saga. Growing up, we watched Days of our Lives, not All My Children. Tom Brokaw rather than Rather. Today instead of GMA. You get the picture. NBC also had the best shows, invented Must-See TV, and has that catchy little three-tone jingle.

But, things have taken a turn for NBC. Aside from this current debacle, they recently canceled Southland, which will no doubt gain even more critical acclaim and viewers now that it’s on cable, and has relied on The Office and 30 Rock to provide all of their comedy needs, even though both shows garner the same exact audience. (Where is NBC’s equivalent to Modern Family or Glee?) Perhaps they are trying to relive their glory days by returning Jay Leno to The Tonight Show, but what worked in the past clearly is not working for them anymore.

I agree with Conan that moving the time slot would be a disgrace to the historic show’s legacy, but mostly I just want to see it (and Conan) stay put because it’s the right thing to do. Conan put in his time while Jay Leno (who’s never been funny and has probably always been a dick) made The Tonight Show a bland, horribly unfunny mess. NBC rightfully broke up with Jay for someone younger and all-around better, but they got scared. Yes, Jay didn’t ignite the same passion he used to (well, did he ever?), but Conan is a fiery redhead who unleashed Triumph and the Masturbating Bear onto America… surely the over-50 crowd (that oh-so-coveted demographic) will be much more comfortable with Jay.

So much like the way Conan is getting dumped by NBC, I think it’s time for me to sever ties with the network. Despite our history, this is just not the same network I fell in love with. But, I do wonder why NBC won’t cut the cord with Leno. Does he secretly own the network? Does he have their children locked in the basement? None of it makes any sense.

While Conan is clearly being treated unfairly, he is still coming out the winner of this mess. Jay, through his actions, has most likely alienated the majority of any audience who’d follow him back to 11:30 and has made himself the most hated man in late night. I’d love to see Conan and Jimmy Kimmel (who is inexplicably on at midnight) work out an 11:30-1:30 deal on ABC. After all, there is no greater victory in a breakup than knowing you kept your cool under the pressure, moved on with some grace, and ended up with a better partner (and better network) than your ex.

In The Year 2000

Remember the hilarious bit that Conan O’Brien used to do on his pre-Tonight Show show called “In the year 2000…”? I think he still does it, but unfortunately for Conan, I cheat on Letterman for NO ONE, so I don’t know for sure. Anyway, the sketch always featured Conan and a sidekick predicting ridiculous and over-the-top circumstances that will happen in the “space age year,” 2000. (A personal favorite: In the year 2000, Ted Kennedy’s head will be placed on Mt. Rushmore. Not a statue… his actual head.)

These comically grim predictions weren’t so different from those given at a reading/panel I went to on Sunday at The Mysterious Bookshop (which is a really cute bookshop in downtown Manhattan that focuses on mystery and suspense novels). The reading portion of the event was by Vincent McCaffrey, who was promoting his new novel, Hound. The main character of the book is a book-lover of yore who has become highly skeptical of the future of books. Timely indeed.

During the panel discussion, called  “The Future of Bookselling,” but could have just as easily been named “Curmudgeony Old People vs. Idealistic Youth,” I saw that Vincent, a former bookseller, must have modeled his main character very much after himself. As intelligent as I found him, I must say, I did not agree with hardly anything he said. It was as if the invention of e-books were a personal betrayal, and the thing is, I know that other people probably feel this way too. Still, it’s hard not to write someone off as outdated or (at best) sentimental, when he begins a discussion, led by the fabulous Stephanie Anderson of WORD Bookstore, with this question: Will books even exist in the future? – cue La Bamba chanting, in the year 2000… in the year 2000…

Luckily the two younger booksellers, Jessica Stockton, who just opened Greenlight Bookstore, and Christine Onorati, who owns WORD, answered Vincent’s question with a resounding YES! As an optimistic youth, I was reassured, but also disgusted that his question was even posed in the first place. What you do you all think? If e-books take over physical books completely (which, by the way, won’t be in any our lifetimes anyway), does that make them not books? I still like buying CDs, but if I download all of the same songs off of iTunes, I wouldn’t say I haven’t bought the album.

The panel continued to discuss independent book-selling. Living in New York, as I imagine in many places on either coast, it’s sometimes easy to forget that most people might have access to a Barnes and Noble (physical access, that is), but may not have an independent bookstore. Still, and remember that I’m one of the idealist youth, I’m not convinced that other parts of the country wouldn’t support indies, so where are they? One panelist brought up a good point that many people like the idea of independent stores, but their economy simply can’t support them, so they end up going to Wal-Mart or B&N. Non-coasters out there, if you exist, please give me your thoughts or let me know what your favorite independent bookstore is.

The older booksellers remained convinced that indies just won’t make it in our crazy technological world. Now that B&N has an e-reader, there’s no stopping them on all fronts. But, the young remain hopeful and as Jessica from Greenlight noted, booksellers are going to start seeing many different methods of bookselling and publishing. What’s important in order to stay relevant is to cater to as many outlets as possible until there is something resembling an industry standard.

In other words, prepare for chaos. Because it’s Y2K all over again.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect them to have the answers because it’s impossible to know how to deal with something that hasn’t happened yet. The important thing is that they are thinking ahead even if they can’t actually plan ahead yet.

I don’t pretend to know any answers either, but I do know that the end won’t be nigh if we just prepare for the change to come. And I can’t wait for the day when, after spending countless nights in our bunkers with duct tape and bottled water, awaiting impending disaster, we wake up and realize we’re all still alive – and more importantly, so are books.