So, you’re Conan O’Brien, and you’re taping your first “Tonight Show” after telling the world you want no part of NBC’s plan to move the show to midnight. What do you do?
You do some very funny comedy about the situation, is what you do.
O’Brien spent a decent portion of his monologue Tuesday (Jan. 12) making light of the situation (quick recap: NBC screwed the pooch with its Jay Leno-at-10 plan, wants to move Leno back to 11:30 for a half-hour and bump Conan and Jimmy Fallon back, Conan doesn’t like it) but at times doing a not-great job concealing a bitter edge.
As the audience gave him a big ovation at the start of the show, he pleaded, “I may not have that much time — please.”
“My name is Conan O’Brien, and I may soon be available for children’s parties,” he continued. “… Welcome to NBC, where the new slogan is ‘No longer just screwing up primetime.'”
And this: “NBC says they’re to have the late-night situation worked out before the Winter Olympics start. And trust me — when NBC says something, you can take that to the bank.”
He later had a taped bit with world leaders — Muammar Ghadafy of Libya, Mahmoud Ahmedenijad of Iran and Fidel Castro of Cuba — offering their subtitled thoughts on NBC’s predicament. The caption for Ahmedenijad read: “They sweet-talk Conan into bed and then they pull this Dutch oven? Not cool.”
Howie Mandel offered his help via a “Deal or No Deal”-style briefcase-choosing exercise (O’Brien walked away with tickets to see Leno do stand-up in Las Vegas). The best commentary of all, though, came from “Tonight Show” writer Deon Cole, who explained that, in essence, NBC was acting as Conan’s pimp.
“NBC is a big pimp, and they’ve got four hos, meaning late-night hosts,” Cole explained. “Jay Leno is the bottom ho, the one who’s been there the longest. Conan is the pretty ho [cheers from the audience], Jimmy Fallon is the young ho, and Carson Daly is, uh, the freak ho.
“NBC is trying to keep all their hos, because the pimp doesn’t wanna see you with another pimp. … That’s money they could be making.”
When O’Brien objected to being called a “ho,” Cole countered: “Do you work at night? … Is your job to make people happy before they fall asleep? … Do you ever feel like everybody wants a piece of you and no one cares? … Has Charlie Sheen ever been on your couch?”
O’Brien handled his afternoon statement with a high degree of skill, and Tuesday’s show (with guests Tom Brokaw, Zachary Levi and Rosanne Cash) also went about as well as it could under the circumstances. It almost seemed like Conan has rediscovered some of the off-center energy that characterized his best work on “Late Night,” and with little to lose tonight, he cut loose. It was a fun hour of TV. I hope we get more like it.