Tonight, Conan O’Brien will tape his last episode as host of the Late Show before taking over for Jay Leno at the Tonight Show in Los Angeles. All week long, he’s been airing classic segments from the 16 seasons he’s been on the air, and star-filled tributes and send-offs. On Wednesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stopped by the set and gave him a key to the Port Authority bathroom. It has been a spirited but somewhat elegiac week on the show, as Conan has repeatedly taken an axe to the set to give a handful of audience members a physical souvenir, and Conan wistfully remembers just how long he’s been at this. Which is fine for him to do. It’s normal when one is standing at the precipice of an enormous crossroads to reflect, maybe even mourn a little bit, before stepping forward.
But that’s for him to do. Why are we following suit? Why is everyone acting like Conan O’Brien died?
Last night, Twitter was blowing the F up with people twittering how much they were going to miss Conan O’Brien. Lindsay has been staying up this week watching all the episodes as if her DVR was broken, or as if it was a show about kittens on Roombas. While I understand that it’s the end of an era, it’s only sort of the end of an era. The man is still going to be on television every single night doing a comedic monologue, absurdist interludes, and interviewing celebrities. On the same network even! It’s like people getting sad that Good Morning, Miami moved from Tuesdays at 8PM to Wednesdays at 8:30PM. The important thing is that we all love Good Morning, Miami, you guys. And it’s not going anywhere, really.
Obviously, there is some concern that somehow being the host of the Tonight Show changes a man. People think that Conan will dumb down his show to appeal to a broader, Leno-washed audience. But what is that concern based on? He’s got the same great team of writers, and he is the same inherently funny and talented host. And there have only been four hosts of the Tonight Show in the show’s history (five if you count Jack Lescoulie, but no one counts Jack Lescouie), so it’s not like there’s some kind of obvious pattern to point to. And in general audiences take what is given to them. Jay Leno does better in the ratings than David Letterman, true, because we live in a world of dull-minded megalames, but David Letterman is still hugely successful. There is clearly room for something other than middlebrow mediocre hucksterism at 11:30 PM on the Big Three networks.
If anything, shouldn’t we be happy that Jay Leno is “leaving” (I know Jay Leno is not leaving. He is that guy at the party, someone should turn the music off and start cleaning up) and that Conan’s absurdist brand of ACTUALLY FUNNY comedy will be brought to a larger audience? Shouldn’t we be happy that Conan has never been more ALIVE?