The producer reflects on how he keeps up with the Saturday Night Live schedule, and how Jimmy Fallon will handle the new Tonight Show:
Conan was an easy decision for me. Both Jay and Dave were essentially my generation—they were boomers. I thought the smart move was to drop down a generation, but if you’re looking at 30 or 28, there’s no one with any experience. I’m more used to putting someone on who’s never been on television before than most people, and that was the bet with Conan. He got roughed up badly, but he came through. The mantra that I used to say to him was, “The longer you’re on, the longer you’re on.” After a while, he just became part of the landscape.
But I think there’s always an alpha, and Dave—he invented late night. Both Jimmy Kimmel and Conan grew up under Dave, to the extent that I grew up under Carson. With Jimmy, and to some degree Seth, I think they were much more influenced by SNL. Jimmy’s not ironic.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 3, 2014
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4878 words)
Drug cartels are digging tunnels into the U.S. to transport massive amounts of marijuana and other narcotics from the border onto American soil. The Feds have managed to shut down many of these tunnels and capture a key cartel manager, but this is just the beginning:
The land east of Otay Mesa, around the agricultural towns of Calexico and Mexicali, is a terrible place to build a sophisticated drug tunnel. The soil is unstable, and the All-American Canal, an eighty-mile-long aqueduct that surrounds Calexico, presents a formidable obstacle. Still, the cartels have found a way.
In October 2008, Mexican authorities, responding to reports of a cave-in and flooding near the canal, discovered a tunnel unlike anything they'd ever seen. Only ten inches wide, it was essentially a pipe. The Mexican cops traced it back to a house about 600 feet from the border, where they found a tractor-like vehicle with a long barrel on its side—a horizontal directional drill, or HDD. Used by oil, gas, and utility industries to quickly bore conduit holes over significant depths and distances, this drill was believed to belong to the AFO. It was the cartel's first known attempt to use cutting-edge industrial equipment to build—in the most literal sense of the word—a drug pipeline.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 12, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5125 words)
The author, on buying an abandoned house in Detroit and fixing it up, in a city that has seen more busts than booms:
I wanted something nobody wanted, something that was impossible. The city is filled with these structures, houses whose yellowy eyes seem to follow you. It would be only one house out of thousands, but I wanted to prove it could be done, prove that this American vision of torment could be built back into a home. I also decided I would do it the old-fashioned way, without grants or loans or the foundation money pouring into the city. I would work for everything that went into the house, because not everyone has access to those resources. I also wanted to prove to myself and my family I was a man. While they were building things, I had been writing poems.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 9, 2014
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6333 words)
The reporter, in Orange County, Calif., examines the gradual decline of evangelical Christianity in America:
Prominent figures in the evangelical establishment have already begun sounding alarms. In particular, the Barna Group, an evangelical market research organization, has been issuing a steady stream of books and white papers documenting the erosion of support for evangelicalism, especially among young people. Contributions from worshippers 55 and older now account for almost two-thirds of evangelical churches’ income in the United States. A mere three percent of non-Christian Americans under 30 have a positive impression of evangelical Christianity, according to David Kinnaman, the Barna Group’s president. That’s down from 25 percent of baby boomers at a similar age. At present rates of attrition, two-thirds of evangelicals in their 20s will abandon church before they turn 30. “It’s the melting of the icebergs,” Kinnaman told me. Young people’s most common complaint, he said, is that churches are too focused on sexual issues and preoccupied with their own institutional development—in other words, he explained, “Christianity no longer looks like Jesus.”
PUBLISHED: Dec. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4073 words)
SCI has 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada, 20,000 employees and a market capitalization of $4 billion. Should a company this large have this much control over how we care for the dead?
“‘We are going to be poised to benefit from the aging of America, the baby boomers,’ Foley said. Deaths in the U.S. are forecast to increase at an average annual rate of 1.1 percent over the next five years. At SCI, earnings per share rose 26 percent in the first half of 2013. ‘This growth,’ Foley said, ’was driven in large part due to the strong flu season’—i.e., a lot of old people got sick and died last winter.”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3673 words)
The life and death of Roy Sullivan, a park ranger for Shenandoah National Park who was struck by lightning seven times:
"A gentle rain fell on April 16, 1972. The Spark Ranger was in a small guardhouse atop Loft Mountain, registering carloads of visitors who were arriving at the campground. Not so much as a coo of thunder riffled the air. Then … KABOOM! Lightning annihilated a fuse box inside the guardhouse. 'The fire was bouncing around inside the station, and when my ears stopped ringing, I heard something sizzling,' Sullivan told a Washington Post reporter who contacted him a week later. 'It was my hair on fire.'"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5142 words)
Even in the 1980s, the comics industry was troubled. Here is a 1989 speech by Calvin & Hobbes
creator Bill Watterson, on the comics that inspired him as a child, and the problem with a business that was being dominated by a very small group of syndicates and newspapers that prevented artists from retaining the ownership of their work:
"By having complete control over the comic strip, the syndicate can ruin the work. Although there has never, ever been a successor to a comic strip half as good as the original creator, passing strips down through generations like secondhand clothes has been the standard practice of the business since it began. Incredibly, syndicates still today tell young artists that they're not good enough to draw their own strip, but they are good enough to carry on the work of some legendary strip instead. Too often, syndicates would rather have the dwindling income of a doddering dinosaur than let the strip die and risk losing the spot to a rival syndicate. Consequently, the comics pages are full of dead wood. Strips that had some relevance to the world during the depression are now being continued by baby boomers, and the results are embarrassing."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5309 words)
The writer visits West, Texas, the town where he grew up, and talks to residents who experienced the fertilizer plant explosion that destroyed its surrounding area on April 17, 2013:
"Less than a minute later, he saw a bright flash and heard a deep boom. 'I thought I was imagining this, but others saw it, too: for a split second, I could see wavy, ripple-y air,' he says. 'It was the shockwave. I could see it hover. I could see it come right above the treeline.' Then he was blown onto his back on the driveway. Out front, Becky was thrown into the grass. And inside, Abby was buried under collapsed drywall. A ceiling fan fell on her, too.
"Jeff doesn’t know how long he was on the ground. When he was able finally to go back to the house days later, he saw what could have been. On the driveway, maybe a foot from where he had been standing, there was chalky residue from where a piece of concrete had landed, before smashing against the back of his house. In his mother Carolyn’s backyard there was a 16-foot length of auger pipe, a foot in diameter, thrust into the back wall, near the roofline. Judging from its path—where it clipped a tree, smashed through a fence, and landed hard enough to gouge a foot-deep gash in Carolyn’s lawn before cartwheeling into her house—it, too, had been headed straight for him."
PUBLISHED: June 25, 2013
LENGTH: 34 minutes (8531 words)
A visit to Iceland and CCP Games, the company behind the sci-fi video game Eve Online. The game has grown to 500,000 users and $65 million in revenue:
"Economists have written dozens of papers celebrating the sophistication of Eve’s economy and the amazing level of industry among the players, who basically create everything within the game from scratch. 'It feels like a real economy instead of one rigged by a gaming company,' says Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher at the London School of Economics who’s studied virtual games since 2004. 'Since there’s no legal system, the economy resembles that of a developing nation where people trade based on trust and social relations.'
"The thought of Eve advancing economic teaching provides some measure of comfort for Icelanders who’ve grown to detest the presumed economic whizzes in the real world. Just down the road from the CCP headquarters, the Harpa, a giant glass opera house, glows in different colors at night. It symbolized Iceland’s banking boom. Now it may have to be torn down, because it’s too expensive for the country to maintain. CCP held its most recent Christmas party there."
PUBLISHED: April 19, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2872 words)