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Conan Becomes Car Salesman

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- I got a VIP pass from NBC to see "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" with the stipulation that I go as a guest rather than as a critic and wouldn't write about it.

That sounded like a bizarre request, especially since"Tonight" has been on a ratings slide since O'Brien has taken over for Jay Leno and he probably needs all the press he can get right now.

But even more bizarre than that request was what happened in an early segment of Monday's show, which I could have seen on TV if I hadn't been in the audience. It was an extended segment about a silly contest involving old cars inspired by the Cash for Clunkers campaign.

The winner of the contest wins a luxury car with a lot of bells and whistles. The luxury car got so much attention from a "Tonight Show" staffer that it appeared that the contest really was designed to promote the vehicle more than laughs.

In other words, it appeared to be a thinly-disguised product placement segment. These things are happening on TV. But the placement of the segment so early in the program slowed the hour down. However, the way things are going, we were probably looking at the future of late-night TV.

If you saw Monday's show, what did you think of the segment?

-- Alan Pergament   

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