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October 4, 2015

Conan's perfect ending

by Nick Zaino, posted Jan 23rd 2010 2:10AM
Conan O'Brien final Tonight ShowI grew up watching Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. I saw George Carlin, Joan Rivers, and countless other comedians on the show, oftentimes my first exposure to comics I would later devote most of my adult life to covering in print (or virtual print). There is no questioning how important Carson's Tonight Show was for me.

But it was always the late night guys that got me. I loved Carson's show, but I identified much more with the sheer lunacy and sometimes brutal quality that Letterman created. And when I got to college, there was this new guy, Conan O'Brien, in Letterman's spot.

And just as Letterman had tossed watermelons off of buildings and jumped in a water tank in a suit made of Alka-Seltzer, Conan had his little string dance and The Year 2000 with cheesy flashlight effects. You had the feeling that anything could go wrong at any moment, and when it did, it was often even funnier.

To me, Conan embraced Letterman's legacy with gusto, and the crowd I hung around with embraced him for it. Which is not to proclaim Conan a generational spokesman - I don't feel you need to overstate the case to make the point, especially in eulogy of a show that lasted only seven months. But Conan did, and does, appeal to people my age (I am somewhere in the center of the 18-49 demo that Conan drew consistently).

So it wasn't a surprise to see familiar faces from that era rallying around Conan for his final Tonight Show. Neil Young was the godfather of grunge and Tom Hanks was huge at the box office (neither Young nor Hanks has really changed that much). For the final number, you had Will Ferrell, who was the new guy on SNL, Ben Harper, who was a college radio hit, and Beck, who was elevated to superstar status in that timeframe, all singing "Freebird" with Conan on guitar.

It was exactly the right way for the show to sign off, after Conan's touching speech thanking NBC for his years of work on SNL, Late Night, and The Tonight Show. Conan was genuinely choked up, but when the curtain drew back and Ferrell was standing there with the band in full southern rock regalia (and a Neil Young t-shirt), you could see the weight lifted from Conan's shoulders. The tie was off, the shirt was unbuttoned, and it was time to rock out with a few friends.

That's exactly how Conan's shows felt for me and I think a lot of people who have been his fans over the years. And while the ship was sinking, Conan, Andy Richter, and the whole staff were spot on - these past couple of weeks have been an immense amount of fun to watch.

Postscript: Jimmy Fallon's show-opening tribute was pretty wonderful, not only because it was actually pretty well-put together musically (thank you again, Roots), but for the sheer silliness of pouring a 40 out on Dr. Oz's floor in Conan's honor.

Post-Postscript: Fox, you're on deck.

Here's Conan's speech:

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Joyce N.

Justa, I read it and find it interesting that it was "business as usual" even back then.

January 26 2010 at 1:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

johngaltx, I haven't watched the local news for years. Prefer to get my news off the internet.

That device you mentioned is called a remote. I have several and use them on a regular basis.

There aren't that many network shows I watch on a regular schedule either. The Tonight Show was one of them until Conan took over. Thought he was funnier on his later show, so stopped watching altogether.

Justin, us 'old' folks are not even included in the advertiser's scheme of what will be shown on television. It's always the 18-49 age bracket that gets to decide what we all watch on TV. By any chance do you fit in that age group? Is that the age group that brings you all that wonderful junk you watch on VH-1 and MTV?

Don't blame your TV sorrows on us "old hippies" (of which I never was one, nor have I ever been considered a yuppie by anyone). If you are in that aforementioned age bracket, blame yourself and not us for the garbage that's on TV now. We're never asked our opinion. Your parents and grandparents must be 'proud' to know you hold so little opinion of us.

January 25 2010 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's also the 'old' folks who have allowed entertainment to become completely mindless and lazy. I'm not saying everything should be intellectual or PBS-ready but I look at what the Baby Boomers have wrought and it is not good. They are in a position to kill anything funny or different from a younger generation (or catering to a younger generation) because of how they've set up ratings and advertising revenue.

Hippies who cried for freedom and creativity have now become yuppies who cry for power, money, and wealth. And apparently Jay Leno, CSI: Rhodesia, and twelve varieties of Law and Order. I'll go back to watching television shows via new technology and embracing innovation while you stock up on pitchforks and torches and continue to kill our misunderstood Frankensteins.

January 25 2010 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let me see if I have this correct: Viewers that are not watching Leno at 10PM, but used to watch him at 11:35PM are not able to remember to switch channels at 11PM to watch their local news on their local NBC affiliate like they once did, therefore; NBC has to get rid of Conan O'Brian?

...Someone should invent, some type of small, portable device that these viewers could hold in their hand, that would enable them to change the stations on their TVs without having to get their butts out of their easy chairs! Then they would not have to to watch the same ABC, FOX or CBS station all night long, they could sample the fine entertainment available all around the dial, and catch their local news on NBC at 11PM.

January 25 2010 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

Kristi, your last paragraph makes a lot of sense. If the ratings were all encompassing, maybe Conan would still be on The Tonight Show. However, my point is that they are not, and therefore, Conan is off the air right now. Guess it's us "old folks" that will continue to keep Leno's ratings up when he gets back.

January 25 2010 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This really all goes back 5 years or so when NBC told Leno that Conan would take over. Leno wasn't ready to go and they were forcing him out. The thing is Leno's too sneaky, knows the business, and has friends in high places, so he struck up a deal for 10, even when he, himself said it wouldn't work.

He knew it was only a matter of time before the affiliates and the network weren't happy with the ratings of his show OR Conan's show. AND he knew he'd have more pull than Conan and have a better shot of getting what he wanted (aka the 11:35 time slot) if things came to push and shove.

AND that's just what happened when the affiliates and advertising couldn't stand having Leno's lack-luster comedy hour at 10 instead of those good-money dramas it was an easy decision for NBC. Sure they tried to make it look like they were giving Conan a good deal (keep the Tonight Show name but be on at 12) but they knew how important the Tonight Show legacy was to him and that he wouldn't take that deal.

Just for the record, I love Conan, and DVR-ed every episode of his Tonight Show run, watching it in the mornings while I got ready for work. And I thought the Free Bird ending (with his first guest, Will Farrell) as he played the guitar with his Tonight Show band (and a few extras!) was the best way to go out.

As far as the whole rating thing (with Leno being #1 for so long and Conan's fans more likely to watch on the internet/DVR) I think it's a cultural/age thing. Conan's fan-base is a much younger crowd, more hip to the internet and new-age electronics than Leno's fans and for those of you that say, well, maybe Conan fans should have tuned in more...I say, maybe tv ratings should change to be more incompassing of how America really watches these programs.

January 25 2010 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

There are a lot of Leno fans out there who loved him on the Tonight Show but didn't love the 10pm show. And just because you don't get his comedy doesn't make us lesser citizens. You keep going on and on about that 10pm lead-in thing being Conan's problem. Leno did not have great lead-ins M-F for 17 years yet he was #1 for the majority of his years as host of the Tonight Show, beating out Letterman. My point is that if all of you gung-ho Conan fans had watched loyally for those seven months, he'd still be hosting. NBC cares about ratings and Conan didn't bring them in. Leno did on the Tonight show without always having good lead-ins and NBC wants him back. Good business sense, like it or not.

And Hazeldeluxe, little girl, Leno has been a very successful comedian for many years and will be for many more. If I were offered my old job back because my successor didn't exceed at it, I'd jump at the chance to go back to doing what I love. Leno's many, many loyal fans will be back. Hopefully, Conan will succeed elsewhere and then we can all be happy.

January 25 2010 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wait, Leno has fans? These are the same people who probably think Family Guy and its offshoots are funny, Dane Cook is god, and the music of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow has never been better. In other words, you've never taken a single chance in love, life, and fun because it would be too exciting and might interrupt your pedestrian existence.

I don't attack you because I understand the need of a security blanket and clearly, like NBC, you view Jay Leno's brand of bland as such. I'm not saying Conan was made for The Tonight Show and in a few years, he'll likely realize everything worked out for the best when he's raking in a lot of cash and going toe-to-toe with Leno and Letterman on Fox and being able to do his shtick for his audience.

But it's these Jay apologists that make me laugh. You find his useless observations funny? So be it--to each his own. Yet, you have to now see what a snake in the grass Jay is. He isn't the reason this all transpired in the way it did but he had plenty of chances to stop it; to rebuff it; to be the bigger man and make up for how he backstabbed Letterman and knuckled his way onto The Tonight Show 17 years ago.

NBC has been a sinking ship for quite sometime and I imagine as long as they continue to let the patients run the asylum, they'll continue to slowly plunge into the murky depth. However, CBS and ABC have gone through these dry spells as well, tossing aside great shows and greater personalities thinking that a quick fix is better than long-term planning. Conan O'Brien can be proud to be in a heap of greatness and impatience that is Studio 60, Life, and a wealth of decent NBC shows they gladly tossed aside to give Leno an hour in Prime Time (that failed miserably--where were Jay's viewers then?) and in an effort for a quick fix?

To top of the cake, Dick Ebersol called O'Brien a failure? Says the man who lost the NBA, NFL, MLB, tanked SNL, brought us the XFL and the failed PPV Olympics? NBC has been full of failures for nearly two decades and once goldmines like Friends and Seinfeld were through, everyone could see the moldy walls and shoddy craftsmenship behind the pretty wallpaper.

January 25 2010 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Leno really really wants to be a comedian, sadly that just isn't enough. It's even more sad that people think Leno is actually funny, well look a little deeper old folks it's not him, it's the comedy 'bits' (Jaywalking, Headlines) that make fun of other people in order to make Leno look good, and if you'll notice even more; he uses ALOT of 'bits'. For heaven sakes Kevin Eubanks is more witty than Leno!

January 25 2010 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just liked Conan's final comments to young viewers on working hard and not giving into cynicism. It made me happy to see some sort of optimism and words of encouragement come out of an incredibly cynical and negative situation...

January 25 2010 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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