Friday, February 20, 2009

Spotlight Feature: So Long Conan, We'll See You Soon

The expectations were high on day one for NBC: Replace Dave Letterman with someone that could keep the momentum of the show going while building it into their own. The choosen one: Conan O'Brien.

Now Conan O'Brien is promising not to cry tonight as he ends his 16-year run at "Late Night." O'Brien joked on NBC's "Today" show that he's gotten injections and has had a lot of therapy to do away with his emotions. Seriously, though, O'Brien says he doesn't know how he'll react when his final show ends tonight.

He takes over the "Tonight Show" June 1.

Jimmy Fallon replaces O'Brien March 2.

On April 25, 1993, Lorne Michaels suggested O'Brien try out to be David Letterman's successor as host of Late Night with David Letterman, with Andy Richter signed on to be his sidekick. O'Brien auditioned on the set of The Tonight Show, where he interviewed Mimi Rogers and Jason Alexander. O'Brien resigned his position on "The Simpsons", despite his contract not having expired.

Premiering on September 13 of that same year, Late Night with Conan O'Brien received generally unfavorable critical reviews for the first 2 to 3 years after its debut. O'Brien himself, a total unknown among the general public before being named host, was seen by many as not being worthy of the program. NBC even poked fun at this perception in a radio ad which aired shortly before the show's debut and had O'Brien relaying an anecdote where someone recognized him on the street and said, "Look, honey, there's the guy who doesn't deserve his own show!" Another source of criticism was the fact that O'Brien himself appeared to be very nervous and awkward during the show's early days. As a self-deprecating nod to this, the original opening sequence for Late Night With Conan O'Brien was animated and featured a caricature of O'Brien who sweated and pulled at his collar nervously.

The show remained on multi-week renewal cycles while NBC decided its fate. By 1996-97, O'Brien's writing and comedic style was thought to have improved, and he began to develop a growing fan base, especially with high school and college students, as well as the respect of critics and his peers. O'Brien would later poke fun at the first three years of the show when on his 10th Anniversary Special, Mr. T appeared to give O'Brien a gold necklace with a giant "7" on it. When O'Brien tried to point out that he's actually been on the air for ten years, Mr. T responded, "I know that, fool...but you've only been funny for seven!"

Since then, O'Brien and the Late Night writing team have consistently been nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series, and finally won in 2007. In 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004 he and the Late Night writing staff won the Writers Guild Award for Best Writing in a Comedy/Variety Series.

In 2001, he formed his own television production company, Conaco, which has since shared in the production credits for Late Night.

On the first episode after the September 11th attacks, O'Brien told a story of how he went to pray for the first time since just after he had been announced as the host of Late Night, eight years prior. O'Brien was reported to have been shaken up and talked about a need to have faith.

O'Brien in Helsinki, Finland in February 2006. After meeting Finnish actor/director Lauri Nurkse on October 11, 2005, O'Brien discovered that he was popular in Finland and began a long-running joke that he resembles the first female President of Finland, Tarja Halonen. After joking about this for several months (which led to the recurring segment "Conan O'Brien Hates My Homeland" and his endorsement of her campaign), O'Brien traveled to Finland and appeared on several television shows, and met President Halonen. The trip was filmed and aired as a special.

O'Brien ad libbed the fictional website name "" on December 4, 2006, after a sketch about the fictional manatee mascot and its inappropriate web-cam site. NBC opted to purchase the website domain name for $159, since the website did not previously exist. The network was concerned that someone might register the domain name and post content with which NBC would not wish to be associated, or that people would get upset and sue NBC when they found out the website is fictional. NBC now owns the rights to for 10 years, as per Conan O'Brien. According to O'Brien, it was decided that, since NBC owned the name, they might as well create the website. Late Night has since developed an actual website, which now has received millions of hits, reaching 4 million page views in four days. People send in "horny manatee" artwork, poems, and other content. According to the Alexa website ranking system, has had over 10 million web hits.

A popular recurring bit on the show is Pale Force, a series of animated episodes in which comedian Jim Gaffigan and O'Brien are superheroes who fight crime with their "paleness." As Gaffigan introduces each new episode, O'Brien protests the portrayal of his character as cowardly, weak and impotent.

As of October 2005[update], Late Night with Conan O'Brien had for eleven years consistently attracted an audience averaging about 2.5 million viewers.

In 2004, O'Brien was named as Jay Leno's replacement when he leaves the Tonight Show in 2009. Leno stated on the show that he wanted to avoid a repeat of the controversy and hard feelings that resulted when he was chosen by NBC to host the Tonight Show over David Letterman.

O'Brien is an avid guitarist and music listener. When Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band appeared on the show as a musical guest, O'Brien joined the 17 piece band along with the Max Weinberg 7 and guests Jimmy Fallon & Thomas Haden Church and played acoustic guitar and contributed backup vocals for the song, "Pay Me My Money Down".

In 2008, Conan O'Brien staged a feud with Comedy Central's Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show) and Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report) over a dispute about which of the three were responsible for giving Mike Huckabee's campaign to become the Republican presidential nominee a "bump." This fight crossed over among all three shows.

On the June 13, 2008 episode of Late Night, O'Brien simply walked out at the start of the show. Instead of his usual upbeat antics and monologue, O'Brien announced that he had just received news about the sudden death of his good friend, fellow NBC employee and frequent Late Night guest, Tim Russert. O'Brien proceeded to show two clips of his favorite Russert Late Night moments.

On July 21, 2008, NBC announced that O'Brien will take over the Tonight Show on June 1, 2009 and will post reruns of "Late Night" until Jimmy Fallon takes over.


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