On Friday, January 22, 2010 Conan O’Brien will sign off as the host of the Tonight Show. It’s weird to even write those words because Conan has been at the helm of the Tonight Show for only seven months. Seven months! On June 1, 2009 Conan made the trek from New York City, where he hosted Late Night for 16 years, to Los Angeles to take on the position he had always dreamed about having and desired. Sadly, his job as host of the Tonight Show has come to a quick and bitter end in what many are calling one of the biggest television debacles in history. For this Conan fan, and millions of others, it’s one huge tragedy. On the flip side, however, this anger and bitterness has provided some of the best comedy from Conan since his Late Night days.
Three weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised when I read that NBC was planning to cancel The Jay Leno Show at 10 pm. It had been a horrible idea from the start. To put on what is essentially a late night talk show during prime time to save money on production costs just didn’t make sense. But to be honest, I couldn’t have cared less about the production costs for NBC or why the network executives decided to place Jay Leno at 10 pm. I was, however, very pissed. I was upset because for 16 years, Conan O’Brien followed Jay Leno and his Tonight Show without complaint. Then, when it was Conan’s time to be the top dog as host of the Tonight Show, he found out that he would be following Leno’s lead yet again. Yet, even on his last taping of Late Night, Conan was gracious towards Leno and expressed his thanks. While I wasn’t surprised that Leno’s show tanked due to low ratings, I was shocked to find out that the NBC execs were planning to move Leno back at 11:35 for a half hour show and move the Tonight Show to 12:05. It was such a preposterous idea that I thought for sure it was just some moron making up a rumor. But within a day after the initial reports came out, it was confirmed by the NBC execs, who indeed are morons, that it was all true. The question that immediately came to mind was, “Why the hell would you offer a guy, who agreed to step down as host of the Tonight Show five years earlier and who then failed miserably on a new show, another chance at 11:35 and bump the Tonight Show to 12:05?!” It just didn’t make any sense at all. A day went by before Conan himself jokingly addressed the issue on his show. I think he and his staff found out about the whole situation through TMZ, of all places. And so here we are two weeks later in what is Conan’s last week as host of the Tonight Show. To add salt to the wound, it’ll be Leno who’ll be taking the reigns of the Tonight Show once again.
What has been crazy wonderful about this whole messed up situation, the silver lining if you will, has been the overwhelming show of support by Conan’s fans, the ribbing coming from other late night talk show hosts towards Leno and Conan’s own shredding of NBC and Leno on his show. Why, you may ask, are people overwhelmingly on Team Conan? Well, to put it simply, because Conan got shafted by the NBC execs (‘The Man’) and Leno (who didn’t have the class to just leave the network and go somewhere else when his show got canceled). You see, Conan had enough of being pushed around. Being asked to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate Leno for his half hour show crossed the line. So on January 12th, after days of speculation as to what was Conan’s official position on the whole screwed up situation, he issued a statement saying that he would not participate in the “destruction” of the Tonight Show by having it moved to 12:05. His statement was fantastically awesome. Conan laid it all out there. You can read the statement for yourself in it’s entirety here.
I don’t know how anyone, after reading his statement, cannot see what a classy guy he is and not be on his side. As soon as that statement went out, fans mobilized on Twitter and formed groups and fan pages on Facebook expressing their support. The one with the largest following on Facebook has been the “I’m with COCO” page started by artist Mike Mitchell. I, of course, became a fan of this page. Mike’s campaign-like image of Conan has become the symbol of the pro-Conan movement. Many variations of the image have also been made. You can only imagine my delight when I came across one with a Palestinian flag in the background; made by a non-Arab no less. Just awesome! In addition to finding this wonderful image on this page (which apparently Arab pop singer Carole Samaha finds amazing. She, or someone claiming to be her with her picture, posted a comment in that regard to this image), I’ve also become Facebook friends with designer Isaac Mizrahi. No joke. He’s apparently a big Conan fan as well and said that any fan of Conan’s is a friend of his. He asked people to friend him on his private account so that we all could “network.” So I figured, why not? He totally accepted me right away. Isn’t it great how Conan is bringing all these people together? Ha!
Not only have fans showed their support online, but through the “I’m with COCO” page, rallies were organized to show support for Conan and anger towards NBC and Leno. On Monday, January 18th hundreds, if not thousands of fans, took to the streets and held rallies in New York City, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. The largest one took place in LA at the Universal Studios lot where Conan tapes the Tonight Show. From the videos on Youtube, pictures and accounts of the fans who attended, it looked like it was an exhilarating, heartwarming experience that was truly epic. Hundreds showed up and stayed during what was a torrential downpour in LA. Conan’s staff brought out doughnuts and coffee for the supporters in the morning. Many staffers and writers also came out amongst the crowd to show their appreciation. And then to the pure delight of the fans, Conan himself came out, without security guards or an entourage, and ran towards his fans to greet them. He quickly mingled with the fans and ran towards his studio where everyone followed. Pizza from Conan and the staff was distributed for those who were there. Conan later mentioned his appreciation for the rallies and showed footage on his show that evening. I ask you, is there any celebrity out there who would have this kind of dedication and devotion from his fans and one who would show this much gratitude in return? I can’t think of anyone.
It angers me now to read what the haters are saying about Conan’s 45 million dollar settlement with NBC. That he shouldn’t be complaining due to the large payout he’ll be getting. First of all, yes, it’s a lot of money. But 12 million dollars from that settlement goes to Conan’s loyal staff that followed him from New York to LA. He fought hard for that. Not only that, but he is also supplementing the severance for his staff with his own money. Again, it shows what a classy guy he really is. Second, his fans know that for Conan, it’s not about the money. Like he said in his statement, he was offered more lucrative offers in the past but turned them down. He turned them down because he just wanted to host the Tonight Show. So now that he’s getting screwed by NBC, he absolutely should fight for all he can get. Let’s face it, if it was any one of us getting screwed over by our bosses, we would do the same thing if we could. Third, in the couple of shows immediately after issuing his statement, Conan’s pain clearly showed and it was sad to see. But, like he also said in his statement, no one should feel sorry for him. He’s an extremely lucky guy. To be honest, it’s me and the other fans I feel sorry for. Finally, acknowledging that there are far more serious and worse things going on in the world, he’s been taking the time out of his show to bring attention to the disaster in Haiti. I don’t see Leno doing that.
You may be wondering why I would care so much (yes, it is just entertainment. But I can be just as passionate about it as I am about other things). Why am I such a huge fan? It’s because one night, twelve years ago, I happened to come across a sketch on this show I’d never heard of that made me laugh out loud. I was in college then and was able for the first time to stay up late enough to watch this show with a host I knew nothing about. After that night, I made sure to watch it again the following night and, before I knew it, I was hooked. It wasn’t just one thing that I liked about Conan; there were many things. He’s funny, nice, sincere, creative and a class act. But above all else, his comedy simply made me laugh my ass off. Soon, I was contributing to a fan newsletter and became a hardcore fan. Over the years I obsessively watched Late Night dreaming of the day I could attend a live taping. My dream finally came true a year ago when I attended a taping a month before his final Late Night show. I’m so grateful I had that opportunity. It was literally an item that I could finally cross off on my bucket list. It was epic for me.
I’m so sad that Conan will be off the air after tomorrow. I’m sad that he’ll no longer be able to continue his dream of hosting the Tonight Show. This conclusion has come so quickly that it hasn’t sunk in yet. The period of time between Conan’s last day at Late Night and his first day hosting the Tonight Show wasn’t great for us fans. For a few months, there was no Conan for us to look forward to seeing at the end of the day. However, we knew and were giddy with anticipation that he would soon be back on a bigger and brighter stage as host of the Tonight Show. Now, there’s an uncomfortable uncertainty as to what he will do or where he will end up. According to the reports on his settlement with NBC, he can be back on the air as soon as September. God, I certainly hope so. I can’t wait for the day when Conan will once again be back on television and into our homes to relieve the stresses of the day with his humor before we go to bed. Like the Conan faithful have been saying since he made his decision to leave the Tonight Show, ‘wherever Conan goes, I will follow’…because he’s my homeboy.