The Conan saga

| Cadenza TV Editor
(Lionel Hahn | Abaca Press | MCT Campus)

(Lionel Hahn | Abaca Press | MCT Campus)

As an avid television viewer, I get a little too attached to my shows, and therefore, TV networks always have the ability to break my heart. For instance, ABC canceled three of my favorite shows in the same news release, and I haven’t really gotten over it yet. And I do not even work in the industry. So I cannot even imagine how Conan O’Brien feels.

Most of you have heard about the Conan/Leno controversy, but here’s a quick recap. In 2004, NBC decided that Conan would take over “The Tonight Show” in 2009, when Jay Leno would retire. But 2009 rolled around, and Leno had changed his mind. NBC gave Leno the 10 p.m. time slot to host “The Jay Leno Show” five nights a week instead of five hours of NBC’s prime-time programming. This plan did not work out too well. Although Leno’s new show was fairly inexpensive to produce, it got terrible ratings, and no one was watching the 11 p.m. news on NBC. Not that “The Tonight Show” was doing much better in the ratings. Still, “The Jay Leno Show” was recently canceled.

The original plan was to put Leno back on at 11:35 p.m. and Conan on at 12:05 a.m. “The Tonight Show,” however, has been on at 11:35 since its inception. And since O’Brien has a respect for its history, he refused to push “The Tonight Show” back a half hour. Once Conan rejected their plan, NBC essentially forced Conan off the air after seven months, without giving his new show a chance.

Conan’s show has been extremely funny since this whole controversy began. Conan kept silent for a long time after the news about Leno broke, but opened up to his viewers with the greeting, “Hi, I’m Conan O’Brien, and I soon may be available for children’s birthday parties.” Conan lost his NBC home. It would be like if my parents kicked me out of the house, because they wanted to convert my room into a home office. Conan has been on NBC for longer than I’ve been alive, so the metaphor sort of works. I would be pretty bitter about it, too, but unlike Conan, I wouldn’t be able to convert my anger into scathing humor.

The last “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” aired on Friday, and in the last two nights, Conan pulled out all the stops to make the funniest show possible. Until the end of the week, he was on NBC’s dime and made some crazy purchases, like the rights to The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and an original Picasso. None of these purchases was real, surprisingly, but they were pretty funny to watch. He also cut together some highlights from the past seven months, asked to be played in a movie by lookalike Tilda Swinton, and joked about the possible better uses for his soon-to-be empty studio, most notably to “leave the studio cold and empty and rename it ‘The World’s Largest Metaphor for NBC Programming.’”

The final show included appearances by Steve Carell, Tom Hanks and Neil Young, but the real highlight occurred near the end of the hour. Conan, strangely enough, took the time to thank NBC for all the opportunities they have given him. He also thanked his fans for all the support they have given to turn the terrible situation into something “joyous and inspirational.” Warning young people against cynicism, he asks his viewers not to give up hope and to follow their dreams, just like he did to get to “The Tonight Show” in the first place. Finishing out the show by jamming on an electric guitar with Will Ferrell, Max Weinberg and the rest of the Tonight Show Band, it was joyous, incredibly sincere and just sweet. I, for one, really hope Conan can find a new home on late-night extremely soon.

  • Justa Notherguy

    For any readers too young to recall – or, perhaps, just not very interested in late night TV, at the time – it might help your perspective on the current Leno vs O’Brien mess if you get some background on the original Leno vs Letterman feud. Here’s the full story of how Jay Leno took over the ‘The Tonight Show’ hosting gig from long-time host Johnny Carson, way back in 1993.
    .
    http://bit.ly/6FjAQq (complete article – NY Times; 1994)