5 most memorable Conan moments

5. The Run

The cold open for the first episode begins with Conan reviewing his “To Do List.” Build Set? Check. Write Jokes? Check. Move to L.A.? He looks out his window to see the New York skyline. Crap.

He can’t hail a cab, so he starts running from his old set to his new set. He runs on the highway, he runs past the Arch. He takes a shortcut through Wrigley Field and gets chased by a couple of ushers. When he finally gets to where he’s supposed to be, he realizes he’s left his keys in New York. So he disappears from the frame for a second…and returns with a bulldozer, crushing his way through the wall and to his historic first show. Conan’s first act as host of the “Tonight Show” wasn’t sidesplitting. It was cathartic and self-deprecating—two traits that have defined Conan over his career.

4. Conan Conks His Head

Before all this business with NBC and Jay Leno caught the media’s attention, Conan was in the news because of a report that he had been taken to the hospital with a concussion. The story of his concussion, which he recapped with sidekick Andy Richter in the next episode, was somehow both hilarious and horrifying. The facts were these: Conan and Teri Hatcher were in a death-defying “triathlon,” and in the race’s closing moments, Conan went for a slide, but his legs went out from under him and he ended up smacking his head against the set’s floor.

Conan thanks Hatcher, and even throws to a slow-mo replay of his injury—he later said that he couldn’t really remember doing any of that. Conan’s description of trying to outwit a doctor when she asked him what year it was is priceless (“I know it’s not 2011!” Conan countered.)

3. The Feud

Ride the wave!  NBC’s decision to move Conan to 12:05 a.m. set the redhead on fire. The late-night scene was suddenly a battleground. Conan took shots at NBC and Leno (“I just want to say to the kids—you can do anything you want to do in life…unless Jay Leno wants to do it too.”) Leno retaliated (“With all the controversy going on here at NBC, actually, ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’’s ratings have gone up. So you’re welcome!”). And David Letterman, free from the clutches of NBC, really let it fly, going so far as to do a bit called “Law & Order: Leno Victims Unit.” We all know that Conan was ousted in the end, but if there’s such a thing as a moral victory, Conan got it.

2. Play ‘Freebird’!

Conan ended his run on “The Tonight Show” rocking his heart out on electric guitar to “Freebird,” alongside Will Ferrell, Beck, Ben Harper, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and, of course, Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band. Would it have been better if Ferrell hadn’t hogged the spotlight so much? Sure. But at least we got some more cowbell out of it. It was a shredding, memorable and classy way for Conan to say farewell to “The Tonight Show.”

1. The Farewell Speech

But it wasn’t the most memorable moment. No, that came seconds before, when Conan gave his last speech. “The Tonight Show” is an American television institution. Conan channeled the show’s great history and capped his run with a heartfelt speech from his desk. He thanked the massive outpouring of support from his fans, who made a “sad situation joyous and inspirational.” He asked only one thing of his fans: “Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism—it’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

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