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letterfacts chapter seventeen

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ch17
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN:
"LATE SHOW" MEETS "LATE NIGHT"

The story of Late Night With Conan O'Brien
by: Jesse

After Dave left NBC for more money and a better time slot on CBS, the network had to find a new host for Late Night, which aired 12:35. NBC soon realized that the one who would replace Dave was going to be someone who had nothing to lose, because stepping into the shadow of David Letterman, meant being under high pressure. When they finally found a replacement, the question people uttered while reading the paper was, "Huh, whom's that Conan guy??"

"That Conan guy's" actual name happened to be Conan O'Brien. He was born on April 18th 1963 in Brookline (near Boston), Massachusetts as the third of six children. His father, a doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School, and his mother, a lawyer, are Irish Catholics.

After high school, Conan attended Harvard University where he majored in American literature and history. There he wrote for the humor magazine Harvard Lampoon and even became president of it two times. After college he moved to Los Angeles and joined the writing staff of HBO's Not Necessarily the News, where he worked for two years. During this period he performed regularly with several improvisational groups, like The Groundlings. In 1988 Saturday Night Live's Executive Producer, Lorne Michaels discovered Conan and hired him as a writer. During his three and a half years with the show, Conan's work was recognized with an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series. In '91 he eventually got a job as a writer and producer for the well-known Fox series The Simpson?s (this writer can't help but mention that The Simpson's are one of the greatest and funniest shows on television ever!). There, it didn't take him very long to become the show's supervising producer as well!

After Dave left NBC, the network asked Lorne Michaels to find a new host for Late Night. Auditions were held, but no one seemed to be the right one for the job. Michaels eventually offered the job to Conan, who was still working on The Simpsons the Producer's job. Conan, however, turned him down because he felt that he wanted to perform. Time went by and, although Conan had never mentioned he wanted to be the host of Late Night, Lorne Michaels suggested making him the new host. According to Michaels, it was Conan's "particular and unique mix of vitality, wit and intelligence" that made him make the suggestion. Since NBC had nothing to lose they agreed.

Conan did have experiences in performing, however, but not as a host in front of the camera. NBC had him tape a test show first and then finally made a decision. In April of '93: 30-year-old Conan O'Brien was going to be the new host of Late Night!

So Conan dropped his job on The Simpsons to start a new career as a host. He was soon introduced on the Tonight Show and presented to the media. Suddenly his name could be found in newspapers and magazines all over the country. And still: even hours before the premiere of his show people were wondering whom he was. His unusual name tended to cause problems. At one point, an NBC announcer called him Conrad O'Brien.

With an all new set especially designed for Conan, the funny 27-year-old Andy Richter as a sidekick, and a guest list featuring such great celebrities as Drew Barrymore, John Goodman and Tony Randall, Conan and his show were ready to premiere on September 13th 1993. During the taping, Conan's entire family was sitting in the audience. The OBrien family consists of: Mom Ruth, Dad Tom, three brothers and two sisters. (And this not because the Late Night Staff couldn't find enough bums and junkies to fill the empty seats...)

The start of Late Night with Conan O'Brien wasn't an easy one though. The shows received loads of bad and also mean reviews after the premiere. According to the press Conan's show was condemned to fail from the very first minute on. Well, some critics just don't know a good host when they see him...

Of course it was Conan's first show, the first time as a host in front of a camera, and considering the high pressure it was to be David Letterman's successor, it was only natural that Conan was nervous and made a lot of mistakes. Insiders said his fear [to fail] made him act "like a real geek" when he first began hosting Late Night

Despite of all this pressure the Late Night staff tried to develop their own style. Sidekick Andy once said that when they were writing bits for the show, they tried to make it as little "Letterman-y" as they could. This was not very easy, because "Conan-y" had yet to be defined. Sketch comedy and the interplay between Conan and Andy; turned out to be an important part of the show.

Late Night with Conan O'Brien struggled the first years and even got cancelled at one point. NBC didn't know what else put on, so they put Conan back on. Growing ratings eventually proved all the critics wrong and NBC decided to extend the show past its one-year contract. This was a decision that was appreciated by millions of viewers.

When Dave returned to the show (as a guest that is) on February 28 1994, he was enthusiastic about what the new Late Night staff had made out of the show. He loved the new set and found it very comforting that they had "carved out a completely new identity" for themselves. He was pleased that it was Conans show was so different from his show. He expressed that he found the show really funny and praised the good comedy. According to Dave, Conans comedy was at a "very high level". Dave also pointed out that there's, "nothing like this show anywhere on television", which is, by the way, this writer's opinion, too.

For those of our readers who are interested in reading the transcript of the show, please click on the following web site address and look for the Transcripts of David Lettermans visit to the Late Night with Conan OBrien.

http://users.abac.com/ksitterley/

Dave's visit to the show, and the positive comments that he made regarding the show, gave Conan and his staff a lot of encouragement. The encouragement that Conan received, gave him the courage to deal with the critics - who just don't know what good comedy, is about.

 

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