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Conan O'Brien on Andy Barker

Published March 5, 2007 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders.
Conan O'Brien Conan O'Brien
Conan O'Brien wasn't upset that his sidekick left Late Night to pursue his own acting career. Just to prove it, he's produced a new TV show for Richter. Andy Barker, P.I. casts Richter as an accountant who begins taking mystery cases. Conceived for Richter's persona, Barker may be too sensitive for this line of work.

Conan O'Brien Talks Andy Barker, PI

"In a nutshell, the idea was that Andy's a character where, if he's knocked out and wakes up in a warehouse and someone's about to shoot him, he's angry that he's been lied to," said O'Brien. "He has kind of a Midwestern [sensibility]. He's indignant that this person didn't treat him appropriately, which I thought was a nice take on the film noir or the Jim Rockford ideal."

The talk show host/producer has faith in his former colleague to reel in viewers week after week. "To me, Andy is one of the most, has always been one of the most likable presences that I've seen on television. I've always responded immediately and I know other people have as well. You see Andy on TV and you like him. I think in this show he's the heart of the show. I think you believe in this person. He's trying to do the right thing."

Developed by Jonathan Groff, Andy Barker, P.I. was tailored to Richter almost immediately. As in, after they came up with the name Barker, they decided on Andy. "I think what's nice too is you get in a situation with Andy where everybody was writing for Andy but then Andy comes into the room and maybe says it the way that Andy would say it. So Andy is pitching jokes and basically everybody is meeting in the same place. The show was pretty much created, after the initial idea, with Andy in mind and then from that point, Andy was involved. So it's hard to tell where we start and he begins."

Like most comedies these days, Barker is shot in the single camera style of an hour-long drama, with no laugh track to indicate jokes. "I do have to say that I do believe something is happening. I don't know if it's cultural. I don't know if it's generational. But to me, something is happening where, maybe it's possibly influenced somewhat by reality television, but I do think that the multi-camera [where] the actor enters and says, 'That was some weekend. It was weak and I'm glad it ended.' There is something where I think people are acclimating to shows like The Office, shows like Earl. And also I think the dramas have a lot of comedic elements to them. What's happening is people are becoming acclimated to, when I say 'we' I mean the viewer, we know when something is funny and we don't need to be told that something is funny with a laugh track. I think younger people especially are acclimating to that idea and maybe those kinds of comedies are looking old to them."

However, in today's competitive TV environment, shows have to catch on right away. Luckily, O'Brien has an "in" with the network to give Andy Barker a fighting chance. "I actually believe that NBC has recently been giving shows a chance because there's a sense that with the onset of reality television and of course it's very popular and people wondering where is the half hour comedy going, there's a sense now I think especially with NBC that we have to invest. We have to go back to what worked for us in the beginning, shows like Seinfeld that maybe didn't click for us right away but we believed in them. I think they have shown, shows like The Office, they clearly knew they had something that was quality and something that was good even though initially it didn't light up the night sky overnight as a ratings juggernaut. I think that experience has helped NBC to realize that's probably a good policy moving forward right now, which is 'Let's let these shows grow.' So I do think this is a good time for us to slide in with a show like this."

Andy Barker, P.I. premieres March 15th on NBC.

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Fred Topel
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