The Future of Television

Screens so small they fit inside coffee cups. Marriages arranged by TiVo. Production facilities on Mars. The king of late night peers into his plasma crystal ball.

By Conan O'Brien


May 30 issue – I have been on television for almost 12 years, and in that relatively short time I've seen the medium change exponentially. Naturally, this seismic upheaval has bred fear and uncertainty in our industry, but throughout it all I have remained calm. Like an old fisherman I have weathered countless storms and kept my tiny skiff afloat. And now, my face cracked and my nut-brown hands rubbed raw by the salt air, I know the mysteries of the inky deep. I've stared into the unblinking eye of modern television and I alone know her startling future.

To begin, the trend toward larger and larger televisions will continue as screens double in size every 18 months. Televisions will eventually grow so large that families will be forced to watch TV from outside their homes, peering in through the window. Random wolf attacks will make viewing more dangerous. And, just as televisions grow larger and more complicated, so will remote controls. In fact, changing channels will soon require people to literally jump from button to button. Trying to change the channel while simultaneously lowering the volume will require two people and will frequently lead to kinky sex.

We will also see a stunning increase in the number of televisions per household, as small TV displays are added to clocks, coffee makers and smoke detectors. Manufacturers will even place a small plasma screen inside car airbags so that accident victims will have something to watch while they wait for help. Toddlers' bowls will have a television at the bottom, and children will be encouraged to eat all of their mush so they can see Morley Safer. Televisions will even be placed inside books and, before long, books will evolve into no more than hundreds of small flat-screens stapled together. Reading the opening chapter of "Moby Dick" will include watching 10 hours of "Gunsmoke."

TiVo, the digital recorder with a brain, will continue to evolve with alarming speed. Super-TiVos will arrange marriages between like-minded viewers and will persuade mismatched couples to throw in the towel and start seeing other people. Tough-talking TiVos will even confront viewers, saying, "You've watched 40 straight hours of 'Sponge- Bob'—get off the weed!" One of TiVo's best loved features—its ability to provide viewers with commercial-free television—will inevitably force TV advertising to go extinct. As a result, celebrities will be forced to find new and creative ways to compromise their integrity. (At this moment, the writer pauses to slake his thirst with a delicious Diet Peach Snapple… now with less aspartame!) The sudden loss of ads on television will push many companies to stage their pitches live on Broadway, revitalizing the theater in America and garnering Patti LuPone a Tony award for her work with Geico.

Meanwhile, computers will continue to be used more and more to watch digital streaming video, eventually turning them into televisions. With no computers available to solve complex math problems, people will have no choice but to return to the abacus. Within a few months, this ancient device will be abandoned when it's realized that there is no good way to make "abacus porn."

However, these minor setbacks will soon be overshadowed by a stunning scientific achievement: Mars is finally explored and colonized simply because it's an even cheaper place to produce television shows than Canada. Producers cheer this cost-saving move but, typically, some New Yorkers complain when the latest "Law & Order" series depicts Manhattan as having a jagged red landscape and two small moons.

These stunning technological leaps will mean a demand for even more programming. Nostalgia shows like VH1's "I Love the '80s" and "I Love the '90s" will be forced to multiply, resulting in the smash hit "I Love That Thing That Happened Five Minutes Ago." Twenty-four-hour news channels, desperate for even more coverage, will conspire with NASA to alter Earth's orbit, creating a 25-hour day. Fox News's attempt to create a 26th hour will result in volcanic eruptions, and Bill O'Reilly will perish in a lava flow.

But it will be reality television that faces the greatest challenge. Viewer demand for more and better reality shows will lead to creative fatigue, and we'll know we're nearing the end with the premiere of "Survivor: Hackensack." As reality television becomes ubiquitous, being unknown becomes cool. Oprah proclaims that "Anonymity Is the New Fame," and the hottest new program is a worldwide search for someone who has never been on television. The winner, an 80-year-old Maori tribesman, is soon on every magazine cover and is spotted canoodling in the bar of the Four Seasons with Tara Reid.

But all of these changes will pale in comparison to the revolutionary explosion of late-night talk shows. As recently as 20 years ago, Johnny Carson was the only game in town, but as cable channels continue to pursue niche viewers, new hosts will continue to spring up at alarming rates. At first, the economy will surge as families build desks, fake windows and bandstands in their basements, but before long violence will erupt as the nation's supply of available talk-show guests begins to dwindle. Dr. Joyce Brothers, Fabio and Randy from "American Idol" will be airlifted to guest-starved areas to quell violence, but anecdote theft and consecutive Al Roker appearances will turn the Midwest into a battlefield. Order will be restored when the Supreme Court (led remarkably well by Chief Justice Judy) upholds the One Host, One Guest law in Philbin v. Ripa.

Finally, all of this technological and creative innovation will yield the ultimate Television Society. In an effort to bring Red and Blue states together, one giant plasma screen, four miles high, will rise from the central Plains, visible from both coasts. In accordance with the amended Constitution, the president will be the only one with the authority to touch the remote, which a nearby Marine will carry in a briefcase. Everyone will complain that there are a million channels on the Nebraska-Tron and nothing worth watching, but when the occasional prophet suggests turning the damn thing off, the nation collectively mutters something about "just another 20 minutes…"

And there you have it: the future of television. In fact, I am so sure I'm right about every detail that I encourage anyone with doubts to place this magazine in a vault and, 50 years from now, compare my vision to the world around you. If I've made even one mistake I'm certain the good people at NEWSWEEK, who never make mistakes, will refund you the price of this issue. Just don't come running to me. I'll be busy hosting a Manhattan-based talk show in the Planitia Crater, near the Martian equator.

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