|Late Night with Conan O'Brien|
The HDTV intertitle of Late Night
|Format||Talk show, Variety show|
Andy Richter (1993-2000)
and The Max Weinberg 7
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||2,725 |
New York City, New York
|Running time||42-43 minutes|
Universal Media Studios (formerly NBC Productions/NBC Studios/NBC Universal Television Studio)
|Original run||September 13, 1993 February 20, 2009|
|Preceded by||Late Night with David Letterman (19821993)|
|Followed by||Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (2009)|
Late Night with Conan O'Brien is an American late-night talk show hosted by Conan O'Brien that aired 2,725 episodes on NBC from 1993 to 2009. The show featured varied comedic material, celebrity interviews, and musical and stand-up comedy performances. Late Night aired weeknights at 12:37 a.m. Eastern/11:37 p.m. Central and 12:37 a.m. Pacific in the United States. From 1993 until 2000, Andy Richter served as O'Brien's sidekick; following his departure, O'Brien was the show's sole featured performer. The show's house musical act was The Max Weinberg 7, led by E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg.
The second incarnation of NBC's Late Night franchise, O'Brien's debuted in 1993 after David Letterman, who hosted the first incarnation of Late Night, moved to CBS to host the Late Show opposite The Tonight Show. In 2004, as part of a deal to secure a new contract, NBC announced that O'Brien would leave Late Night in 2009 to succeed Jay Leno as the host of the Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon began hosting his version of Late Night on March 2, 2009.
Upon Johnny Carson's retirement from The Tonight Show in 1992, executives at NBC announced Carson's frequent guest-host Jay Leno would be Carson's replacement, and not David Letterman. NBC later said that Letterman's high ratings for Late Night was the reason they kept him where he was. Letterman was reportedly bitterly disappointed and angry at not having been given The Tonight Show job; and at Carson's advice, Letterman left NBC after eleven years on Late Night. CBS signed Letterman to host his own show opposite The Tonight Show. He moved his show over to CBS virtually unchanged, taking most of the staff, skits, and comedy formats with him. However, NBC owned the rights to the Late Night name, forcing Letterman to re-christen his show Late Show with David Letterman.
NBC was faced with an unexpected need to replace not just Letterman, but Late Night itself. They still owned the name, but needed to essentially build a new show from scratch. The show was first offered to Dana Carvey and Garry Shandling, both of whom turned it down. Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels was brought in to develop the new show and auditions were held for the host. Comedians Jon Stewart, Drew Carey, and Paul Provenza auditioned. Michaels had suggested to O'Brien, a then-unknown comedy writer for The Simpsons and former writer for Saturday Night Live, that he should audition for the job, which he did on April 13, 1993. His guests were Jason Alexander and Mimi Rogers, and the audition took place on the set of The Tonight Show. O'Brien was offered the show on April 26, 1993. On the final episode of his 16-year run, O'Brien stated that he "owed his career to Lorne Michaels."
O'Brien's Late Night was rushed into production and debuted on September 13, 1993, with Andy Richter as O'Brien's sidekick. The premiere episode featured John Goodman (who received a "First Guest" medal for his appearance), Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall. The episode featured a cold open of O'Brien's walk to the studio with constant reminders that he was expected to live up to Letterman, parodying a popular sentiment expressed in the media at the time. After seeming to be unaffected by the comments, O'Brien arrives at his dressing room and cheerfully prepares to hang himself. However, a warning that the show is about to start causes him to abandon his plans. The first musical guest on the show was the band Radiohead. The crowd for the first show mainly consisted of family members of the crew of the show so as to ensure a positive reception.
O'Brien's on-camera inexperience showed and the show's first fourteen weeks were generally considered mediocre. O'Brien, an unknown, was constantly at risk of being fired: NBC had him renewing short-term contracts, thirteen weeks at a time. He was reportedly on the brink of being fired at least once in this period, but NBC had no one to replace him. The show, and O'Brien, slowly improved through experience, and the show's ratings gradually increased to a level which allowed O'Brien to secure a longer contract, and not have to worry about cancellation.
In 2000, Richter left Late Night to pursue his acting career. The show's comedy bits and banter had usually depended on O'Brien's interaction with Richter. O'Brien's wacky non sequitur comedy became more pronounced as he played all of his comedy and commentary directly to the audience instead of towards Richter.
Ratings and reviews continued to improve for Late Night and in 2002, when time came to renew his contract, O'Brien had notable offers from other networks to defect. O'Brien decided to re-sign with NBC, however, joking that he initially wanted to make a 13-week deal (a nod to his first contract). He ultimately signed through 2005, indicating that it was symbolic of surpassing Letterman's run with 12 years of hosting.
In 2003, O'Brien's own production company, Conaco, was added as a producer of Late Night. The show celebrated its 10th anniversary, another milestone that O'Brien said he wanted to achieve with his 2002 contract. During the anniversary show, Mr. T handed O'Brien a chain with a large gold "7" on it.
Mr. T: I know that, fool, but you only been funny for seven!
The show's house band was The Max Weinberg 7, led by drummer Max Weinberg, who also served as a sounding board for O'Brien on the show (more notably since Andy Richter's departure). The other six members were Mark Pender on trumpet, Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg on trombone, Mike Merritt on bass, Jerry Vivino on saxophone and brother Jimmy Vivino on guitar, and Scott Healy on keyboard. James Wormworth served as backup drummer when Weinberg went on tour with Bruce Springsteen. With the departure of Andy Richter, Max Weinberg assumed a bigger role as an interlocutor for O'Brien's jokes. One common running gag was Max's awkwardness on camera and his apparent lack of chemistry with Conan. Weinberg was often used in sketches as well, which usually revolved around his purported sexual deviance (mostly a penchant for bedding barely legal groupies), although long running sketches also spoofed Max's lack of knowledge of current affairs.
"LaBamba" was also used as the butt of many of Conan's jokes. These humorous sketches usually revolved around LaBamba's sizeable mustache, his poor acting skills, and his alleged inability to read sheet music. Mark Pender would often sing songs on the topic of a current event which ended with him screeching uncontrollably and climbing the risers into the audience. All members of the 7 had successful side careers as studio musicians.
As is common in the talk show format, the Max Weinberg 7 performed the show's opening and closing themes, played bumpers into and out of commercial breaks (they actually played through the entire break for the studio audience), and a short piece during O'Brien's crossover to his desk after his monologue (except for several months beginning in April 2008, where a commercial break was inserted at that point). The show's opening theme was written by Howard Shore and John Lurie (a finalist for the job as band leader). The show's closing theme was called "Cornell Knowledge", and was lifted from Jerry and Jimmy Vivino's first album together. However; on Late Night it was played at a much quicker tempo than the album version.
The band played a wide variety of songs as bumpers usually popular music from a variety of eras. Weinberg sometimes took extended leaves of absence to tour with Bruce Springsteen as the drummer for his E Street Band. During his absence, temporary replacement drummers were hired (most commonly James Wormworth), and the band was led by Jimmy Vivino ("Jimmy Vivino and the Max Weinberg 7").
Joel Godard, a long-time announcer for NBC shows, was the show's announcer and an occasional comedy contributor. These comedy bits usually revolved around Godard's supposed homosexual fetishes, deviant sexual habits, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies. The humor came in part from Godard's delivery. No matter how depressing or deviant the topic being discussed he always did so in an exaggeratedly cheerful voice and with a huge smile plastered on his face. Several sketches ended with Godard apparently committing suicide in his announcers booth.
Members of the show's writing staff frequently appeared in sketches on the show. Among the most prolific were: Brian McCann (Preparation H Raymond, FedEx Pope, The Loser, Airsick Moth, Jerry Butters, Funhole Guy, Bulletproof Legs Guy, Adrian "Raisin" Foster, S&M Lincoln, etc.), Brian Stack (Hannigan the Traveling Salesman, Artie Kendall the Ghost Crooner, The Interrupter, Kilty McBagpipes, Fan-tastic Guy, Clive Clemmons, Frankenstein, Ira, Slipnut Brian, etc.), Jon Glaser (Segue Sam, Pubes, Wrist Hulk, Ahole Ronald, Gorton's Fisherman, Jeremy, Slipnut Jon, etc.), Kevin Dorff (Coked-up Werewolf, Jesus Christ, Mansy the half-man/half-pansy, Joe's Bartender, Todd the Tiny Guy, etc.), and Andy Blitz (Awful Ballgame Chanter, Vin Diesel's brother Leonard Diesel, Slipnut Andy, Chuck Aloo aka the star of the 24 spin-off series 60). Blitz went so far as to travel to India for one bit in which he carried his computer through the streets of India to get technical support firsthand from the telephone representative at NBC's technical help center. One of the show's graphic designers, Pierre Bernard was featured several sketches, such as: "Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage", and "Nerding It Up For Pierre".
Late Night employed a number of sketch actors, many of whom were frequently reused in different roles in different episodes. Several years before joining the cast of Saturday Night Live, Amy Poehler often appeared as a regular in many sketches, she was best remembered for playing the role of Andy Richter's little sister, Stacy. Jack McBrayer frequently appeared as well. Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog began as part of a sketch on Late Night. Celebrities such as Dr. Joyce Brothers, Nipsey Russell, Abe Vigoda and James Lipton also made frequent cameo appearances in comedy sketches on the show at different periods.
Unusual for a late night talk show, Late Night made frequent use of various costumed characters such as The Masturbating Bear, Robot on a Toilet, and Pimpbot5000. The humor in these sketches often derived from the crude construction of the characters costumes as well as the absurdist nature of their conception. For example, Pimpbot5000 was a 1950s style robot who dressed and acted in the manner of an exaggerated blaxploitation pimp, while The Masturbating Bear was a man in a bear costume wearing an oversized diaper who would inevitably begin to fondle himself to the tune of Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" when brought on stage. Many of these characters did little more in their appearances than walk across the stage or be wheeled out from behind the curtain. But some had extensive sketches on the show.
Late Night was a production of Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video (and, since 2003, O'Brien's Conaco). It was taped in Studio 6A in the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Next to the door were framed pictures of Letterman, Carson, Jack Paar and Steve Allen, each of whose groundbreaking late-night shows originated from studio 6A or 6B (where Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is currently taped). The studio holds just over 200 audience members. It was taped at about 5:30 p.m. as an uninterrupted hour-long program, with the band playing music through the portions that would be filled by commercials. The show routinely aired entire weeks of reruns while the staff took the week off. The production staff sometimes filmed remotes during these breaks.
The show's format typically consisted of an opening monologue from O'Brien, followed by a "desk bit" a comedy piece which occurred while O'Brien was at his desk. In the show's second and fourth segments, O'Brien interviewed two celebrity guests, between which, in the third segment, O'Brien listed the next night's/week's guests. There was often a comedy bit as well during this segment. The show's fifth segment was usually reserved for a musical or stand-up comedy performance, or occasionally another guest interview. The show's final segment was usually a quick "goodnight" and the closing credits, which sometimes featured part of a bit from earlier in the show.
During the live tapings, and prior to the show, there was an audience warm-up, during which the audience watched a montage of highlights from the show, and staff writer Brian McCann greeted the audience (this task was formerly undertaken by head writer Mike Sweeney). McCann delivered a few jokes, told the audience what to expect, and finally introduced the band and then O'Brien. O'Brien then thanked the audience for coming, meeting as many audience members as he could. After the show was finished taping, O'Brien sang the "End of the Show Song", which never aired; though in February 2009, a short video of it was posted on Late Night Underground.
Late Night began broadcasting in 1080i ATSC on April 26, 2005, with a downscaled letterboxed NTSC simulcast (unlike The Tonight Show, whose NTSC simulcast is fullscreen). O'Brien celebrated the conversion to the widescreen HDTV format with jokes throughout the week.
On December 6, 2005 Late Night with Conan O'Brien segments began selling on the iTunes Store. Most segments were priced at $1.99, as were most episodes of other shows, with "special" best-ofs and other longer segments priced at $9.99. In December, 2007 NBC stopped selling all its television shows on iTunes, but the network returned it to iTunes in September 2008 after NBC and Apple worked out a new agreement. The show is now offered free at Hulu.com and the NBC website.
 Special episodes
Remote pieces shot on location were a recurring staple on Late Night, but occasionally entire episodes were shot on location; usually during sweeps months. The first vacation for the show was a week-long stint of shows in Los Angeles the week of November 912, 1999. This was the only location week for the show while Andy Richter was with the show, and the only time the show's theme was altered for the week, with a more surf-style version of the show's normal theme (though the Toronto shows ended the normal theme with a piece of "O Canada"). The show was broadcast from NBC's L.A. studios and an L.A.-themed set was built, very similar in layout to the New York set.
From February 1013, 2004, Late Night broadcast from the Elgin Theatre in Toronto, Canada. The guests for these episodes were all Canadians (with the exception of Adam Sandler), and included such stars as Jim Carrey and Mike Myers. As the show was taped at a theater, unlike the trip to L.A., the set built was not like the show's standard set.
From May 9-12, 2006, the show made a similar venture to the Chicago Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, taking cues from their previous trip to Toronto. Between April 30May 4, 2007, the show originated from the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, California.
One episode, broadcast on March 10, 2006, was compiled mainly of footage from O'Brien's trip to Finland. The episode was not strictly taped as a live episode there however, but was prefaced by an introduction by O'Brien taped in New York. The Finland episode came as the culmination of a long running joke on the show. Earlier in the season, Conan had been informed by some Finnish audience members that he bore a resemblance to their (female) president Tarja Halonen, who was running for re-election. Conan subsequently made a running joke of the resemblance, often putting a picture of Halonen side by side with his own face. Conan's interest in the joke increased when he discovered that Late Night was quite popular in Finland, and that his running joke had made its way into actual news commentary about the Finnish election. After this discovery, Conan began making satirical commercials in support of Halonen and vowed to travel to Finland to meet her if she won re-election. When she did indeed win re-election in January 2006, Conan traveled to Finland and met with Halonen as well.
Aside from location shows, the show also did special one-shots in its early years. In 1995, one episode of the show was taped aboard a New York City ferry in New York Harbor. Dubbed "The Show on a Boat" by the showtunes-style song-and-dance number performed by a trio of "sailors" at the start of the show, O'Brien, Richter, the band and guests were all crammed onto the deck of the ferry. The show was taped at its normal afternoon time, while it was still light out.
A more unexpected shoot occurred on October 10, 1996, when a five-alarm fire in Rockefeller Plaza rendered the 6A studios out of commission for the remainder of that week. The fire occurred on early Thursday morning, which left O'Brien's staff precious little time to assemble a show elsewhere. Pressed for time as 12:35 approached, O'Brien taped the show outside, near the outside walking area in front of 30 Rock, after dark, despite the cold weather. Furthering the unfortunate nature of the evening's circumstances was the final guest, Julie Scardina, who brought along wild animals, including birds that Conan explained had to be kept tied up, as they could not be freed outside. Earlier in the show, O'Brien and Richter walked into Brookstone (located in the lobby of Rockefeller Center), camera crew in tow, and bought a massaging leather recliner for the first guest, Samuel L. Jackson. The second of the two "fire shows", on Friday night, was taped in the Today Show studio, which was not affected by the fire.
During the Northeast Blackout of 2003, Conan and the staff taped a short 5-minute introduction explaining that the episode they had planned would not be taking place due to the blackout. Studio 6A was powered by a generator and lit by battery-powered floodlights. A standby show was aired in-progress after the intro.
Other shows that were taped in the regular 6A studio were augmented by special gimmicks: "Time Travel Week", four episodes from early 1996, where Conan and Andy (and the rest of the crew) "time-traveled" to a different point in time each night. Times and locations included The Civil War, Ancient Greece, The future, and The early '80s (featuring a cameo by David Letterman in the cold open, who occupied Conan's studio in 1983, cruelly brushing off Conan and Andy's attempt at explaining their presence in Letterman's dressing room by saying, "Why don't you two fellas go find a nice, warm place to screw yourselves? Security!").
In 1997, a special episode was taped in which the studio audience was composed solely of grade-school age children, primarily 5-10 years of age. Conan interacted with the children, encouraging them to boo whenever guest (Dave Foley) became too long-winded and boring.
A 2003 episode was re-shot entirely in clay animation several months after its first airing, including the opening credits and commercial bumpers. The episode's originally broadcast soundtrack was retained while the visuals were reproduced to mirror the original footage in a small-scale reproduction of the studio 6A.
On October 31, 2006, a similarly conceptualized Halloween episode was created from an episode which originally aired in May and featured Larry King, among other guests. Using a process the show called "Skelevision", all the visuals were re-shot with a Halloween motif, with human skeletons adorned with the clothing and accessories of the humans. This re-shoot was shot using the actual studio, and the puppeteers moved the skeletons with wires and cables while being visually obscured by green screen technology. Once again, the opening and bumpers were altered, this time including a model of a hearse winding through a foggy landscape and cemetery, and a ghoulish intro announcer in place of Joel Godard.
After two months of being off-air, the first show to air during the 20072008 Writers Guild of America strike on January 2, 2008 featured a small musical segment at the beginning of the show detailing O'Brien's newly grown beard in a show of support for the striking writers. At the beginning of the January 28 episode, it was revealed that Conan had shaved his beard, which was followed with a similar musical segment.
Several times during the episodes produced during the writer's strike, O'Brien would kill time by spinning his wedding ring on his desk, which he previously only did during rehearsals. His personal best was 41 seconds, achieved during an un-aired rehearsal. After several unsuccessful on-air attempts to break his record, during the show originally broadcast on February 9, 2008, O'Brien broke his record for endurance ring spinning, setting a time of 51 seconds by coating his wedding ring with Vaseline and spinning it on a Teflon surface. The feat was accomplished with the help of MIT physics professor Peter Fisher.
 Feud with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
Early on in the later half of the 2007-2008 Writer's Guild Strike, Conan O'Brien accused his show of being the sole cause of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's status in the polls, due to his use of the Walker Texas Ranger Lever while Chuck Norris was coincidentally sponsoring Huckabee. Stephen Colbert made the claim that because of "the Colbert bump", he was responsible for Huckabee's current success in the 2008 presidential race. O'Brien claimed that he was responsible for Colbert's success because he had made mention of him on his show. In response, Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, claimed that he was responsible for the success of O'Brien, and in turn the success of Huckabee and Colbert. This resulted in a three-part comedic battle between the three faux-pundits, with all three appearing on each other's shows. The feud ended on Late Night with an all-out mock brawl between the three talk-show hosts.
 Anniversary episodes
In 1996, a third anniversary episode was taped, though it aired in the regular 12:35/11:35 late night time slot. The show was composed of clips of the best of the first three years, and featured cameos from many former guests, including Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson, Tony Randall and George Wendt. Typical of O'Brien's style of comedy, he introduced his first guest (Wendt) by listing his notable achievements in television (particularly Cheers) then introduced each subsequent guest by repeatedly listing Wendt's achievements (insinuating that all of his guests for that night's show played the role of Norm on Cheers). In 1998, Late Night aired a fifth anniversary special in prime time, mostly consisting of clips from the first five years. It was taped in the Saturday Night Live studio, also in the GE Building. The special was later sold on VHS tape. In 2003, a similar tenth anniversary special was taped in New York City's famed Beacon Theater and later made available on DVD.
 The final episode
Late Night with Conan O'Brien's last episode was recorded February 20, 2009, and aired shortly after midnight that night. The episode featured clips from past shows and a reflection on the show's sixteen-year-long run. John Mayer sent a farewell video message, singing a song about how Los Angeles is "going to eat [Conan] alive." In a short remote piece, Conan released regular contributer Abe Vigoda "into the wild," as he could not bring him to Los Angeles for the move to The Tonight Show, which caused Conan to cry profusely. Will Ferrell made a surprise visit as George W. Bush, which quickly devolved into Ferrell tearing off his business suit to reveal an ill-fitting green leprechaun outfit that had been worn in a number of previous appearances on the show.
Former sidekick Andy Richter joined O'Brien onstage for two segments, watching clips and reminiscing about the show. Among the clips shown, O'Brien noted that his all-time favorite Late Night piece was when he attended a re-enactment of a Civil War-era baseball game. During the course of the final week, O'Brien began violently dismantling and handing out pieces of the production set to the audience. In the final show, a large piece of the stage's frame was pulled down and chopped into pieces. O'Brien then promised to give each audience member in attendance a piece of the set.
The program concluded with a visibly emotional O'Brien giving a farewell speech from behind his desk, thanking his fans, writers, producers, backstage crew, his family, the Max Weinberg 7, David Letterman, Joel Godard, Jay Leno, and Lorne Michaels, as well as a final assurance that he would not "grow up" as he moved to The Tonight Show.
Primetime Emmy Awards2007 Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Comedy or Music Program
The set of Late Night changed a few times cosmetically, but retained a basic structure: the performance space at the viewer's left, and the desk area, to the viewer's right, where interviews were done. O'Brien did his monologue in the performance area, emerging at the start of each episode from the area where musical guests perform. The Max Weinberg 7 were in the corner made by the stage-right wall and the wall in front of the audience. The desk area had a desk for O'Brien, a chair and couch(es) to the viewer's left for guests (and originally Andy Richter), and a coffee table. Primarily, set changes involved the background behind the desk and chair and couch. On his final episodes, Conan took an axe to parts of the set, giving it out to audience members as souvenirs; not wanting to allow it to simply be thrown away.