I have been watching the strange NBC internecine struggles over the Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien and the former host, Jay Leno. The way I understand it is that Jay Leno was replaced with Conan O'Brien as host of the Tonight Show seven months ago. This was done even though Leno's "Tonight" show was doing quite well, popular among viewers and leading all other late night shows. My own niece had appeared on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, in a segment about "your most terrible date." She did quite well, though Leno never did pronounce the family name right.
O'Brien, a likable, energetic, younger guy, didn't do as well. Viewers had developed a loyalty to Leno and weren't anxious to reassign that loyalty to O'Brien. Under Conan, ratings for the Tonight Show sank.
Meanwhile, Jay Leno had been given another show at 10 PM, the Jay Leno Show. The Leno Show looked very much like the old Tonight Show, with the same band, the same format, the same shtick. Personally, I liked the 10 PM time slot, as I could watch it and still get a decent amount of sleep. However, most viewers didn't like it, and the Leno Show's ratings were also in the tank. Nobody was happy.
NBC proposed moving the Leno Show to 11:30 PM, reducing its time from an hour to a half hour, and move the Tonight Show to midnight. Leno was on board but Conan said NO. After a couple of weeks of wrangling over Conan's contract, he agreed to a buyout of $44 million, $32 million for himself and $12 million for his staff. Last night was Conan's last as host of the Tonight Show.
Last night's show was offbeat and a lot more interesting. Tom Hanks showed up with two glasses of Scotch, one of which he gave to O'Brien, before settling into the guest's couch to banter with Conan. O'Brien claimed the beverage was only "Creme Soda," but the way Hanks was gingerly sipping it made me think not. It appeared to be some strong drink.
Conan's show also featured a lot of film clips, of Conan in his trademark slate blue suit, blue shirt and dark tie, running down the highway, through grassy fields, through the desert. Other clips showed Conan-like dummies being fired from cannons. It was weird but fun.
Neil Young played harmonica, acoustic guitar and sang; the old Lefty's song was pleasant but I didn't know what he was singing about. The song was sad and, I suppose, appropriate for Conan's last show.
Conan made one last impromptu speech to the audience, in which he waxed nostalgic about his 20 years with NBC, and teared up a bit in the process.
Finally, the eccentric comedian Will Ferrell performed, looking like a long-haired hippie straight out of 1968, and he and his own musicians joined with Conan's Tonight Show band to play and sing a song called "Freebird." One of Ferrell's musicians was playing a lap steel guitar -- you don't see that very often anymore. Conan, who plays guitar, picked up his own instrument and played along with the band until the show went off the air. I'll miss these guys.
Conan O'Brien can't accept another show for seven months, according to his separation agreement, but it is rumored that he may be talking to Fox about a late night show there.
Selected clips of the show, or the entire show, can be viewed at Hulu.com, at this link.
You can also watch it at the NBC site at this link.
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