Conan talks to reporters about "feeding the dragon" on the new Tonight Show
by Danny Gallagher, posted May 27th 2009 1:08PM
The world's armchair TV executives proudly proclaimed that the only way Conan O'Brien's cavalcade of foul-mouthed puppets and surreal pop culture mechanes could work every night at 11:30 p.m. is with a potent injection of Ritalin (present executive included).
O'Brien noted, however, that television has broken the time barrier.
"I think especially now, people don't watch an episode of Lost when they are supposed to watch it," he said during a recent conference call. "DVRs changed everything. The Internet has changed everything. People are getting it off Hulu and watching shows on their iPhone. What's most important to me with The Tonight Show is it needs to be funny so people can experience it at 11:30 or watch it the next morning while they're eating their oatmeal."
O'Brien's biggest challenge come June 1st is "feeding the dragon." That could either be a metaphorical description for the need to provide funny, lively and entertaining comedy five nights a week or a new character for his show, say a mythical dragon with the head of Jake and the Fatman star William Conrad that vomits dice.
"During my whole experience at Late Night, I never once said we were going to do 'x' because it would be huge ratings," he said. "I always did the thing that I thought would be funny and good ratings come from that. That's foremost in my mind. I'm really going to try very hard to give people a funny show."
So just how does one bring the funny on a nightly basis? For starters, O'Brien said he is sticking with the style of comedy he and his audience have gotten to know very well.
"Late night is interesting because ... in general, each show has evolved differently over time," he said. "My late night show, the one we wrapped up in February, we usually prided ourselves on having a lot of produced comedy. I will probably continue that tradition. I think that's what I'm comfortable with. It's where I come from in the comedy world. That's something I feel is probably one of my strong suits."
Some of the host's signature staples are bound to crossover as well such as "In the Year 2000," his Spanish soap opera serial "Noches De Pasion Con Senor O'Brien" and of course, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. O'Brien noted, however, that he expects the new show to go through some changes and so does his audience.
"One of the things I've been stressing with the writers from the beginning is that we're moving from one playground to another and being on the Universal lot is a gift and people laugh when they think of me being in L.A.," he said. "I see no reason why Triumph can't file reports for us, but I think we also have an opportunity to do something new and I think people would be disappointed if I didn't reinvent myself to some degree."
Being on the Universal Studios lot is a good place to start. It's a "McDonald's Playland" for late night comedy writers, he said.
"[The studio] told us from day one that anything you want to play with is yours to play with. My first desire is we have to screw with that tram and then we have studios that are making things and all the crazy technology and it just feels right to go in and mess around with it," he said. "Then when you step outside the lot, L.A. itself is an
O'Brien said he is confident the show's comedy will work because he has always followed the advice that Johnny Carson gave him in 1993 and Jay Leno continues to give him as the show prepares to take to the
air: "just be yourself."
"Back in 1993, [Carson] told me that basically all anyone knows anything about these shows can tell you is you have to do it your way," he said. "Jay has been very nice and so far he's basically implied that I should be myself because these shows are such an extension of the host and the reason that Jay's show worked so well is
he did it his way. Carson did it his way. Jack Paar did it his way. And Steve Allen when he was the host had to put his stamp on it."
That's one of the reasons why he gave such a serious and passionate farewell speech on his last Late Night show, to remind his loyal viewers and new fans just what they would be getting at 11:30 every night.
"I just had a birthday, I turned 46. Having two kids hasn't changed me. Having The Tonight Show hasn't changed me," he said. "My needing to say to all those people who were watching me for 16 years was they get it. They know who I am and there is no changing me. I sort of felt a responsibility to say that to a lot of people watching that last show, some of whom have been with me since 1993. I wanted them to know this is who I am. It isn't an act and there's nothing I can do about that, for better or worse."