Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The End of An Era: Saying Farewell to Late Night with Conan O'Brien

It's been awhile since I've logged into Blogger and posted anything but I think that will be changing soon. However all that can wait for another post, this one is far more important and really made me think about contributing my ideas online again. This post is mirrored at the two blogs I post at, and Player One, the post content at both is exactly the same.

As many know, Conan O'Brien will be taking over hosting duties for The Tonight Show starting this summer. Jay Leno will move to an earlier time slot (10:00pm) and Jimmy Fallon will pick up Late Night. Formats will change, of course, but most of Leno's big skits will move over with him and Late Night will be completely reworked. Also as many know, this week marks the last week of episodes of Late Night with Conan O'Brien... ever.

It's an odd feeling, thinking that Conan O'Brien won't be hosting Late Night after this week. To me Conan has always been a constant, something that was always there, outstanding humor in the middle of the night. This last week of shows so far has consisted mainly of clips, with Conan going over some of his favorite moments from the past sixteen years. It's very bittersweet and to me it feels like high school graduation in a way. Stay with me here, think of your last week of high school. You're moving ahead, more opportunities are being presented to you, you've worked hard and accomplished so much... Yet at the same time, you know you're leaving behind a world that has been a part of you for a good portion of your life up to that point. You're leaving behind a quarter of a lifetime's worth of memories, emotions, challenges, and successes. Again, it's very bittersweet.

I began watching Conan when I was eleven years old or so, over the summers and on Friday nights back around his second season. I don't know why but his humor just clicked with me. Childish? Yeah, sometimes, of course but it was always of solid quality. I continued to watch Conan as the years rolled on. If you watched Conan you "got" me pretty much, my sense of humor, that the world is full of such funny things, such common haliarious things that most people pay no attention to. Once I entered high school Late Night, in my mind, was hitting it's high point - the late 1990's. The Christmas season would always bring some of the best skits, flat out gut busting routines. Since school would be on break during this time both myself and my younger brother would be able to stay up late into the night, never missing a moment. The same was true during the summer. Whatever else was going on, wherever we may have been going, if you were in the pool or playing video games, out with friends, any of that - as soon as 12:35 was starting to get near, it was time to drop everything, make sure you were home and watching Conan. When friends in high school would ask "Letterman or Leno?" I would always reply "Conan." Maybe that's why I link these last few episodes to the end of high school, the two seem to be intertwined with me. Late Night was always a show where anything would go, and nothing was off limits in the spirit of good fun. A giant late night party where everyone was invited, and no problem if things got out of hand... no one's watching anyway.

In the ten (gulp) years since high school I've always made time to watch Late Night. And in those years, and the few before, people have been watching. It had become the popular thing to do, watch Conan. Some say the quality of comedy has increased over the years - I say people were just wising up to how things have always been at Late Night, superb. How many wonderful years all of them missed. When CNBC would rerun the previous night's Late Night during the next afternoon, now that was truly a great point in time. If for some unthinkable reason you missed Conan the previous night, you were still covered. If you wanted to watch an episode again, there it was. And most importantly, you could not only tell someone about the previous night's episode - they could watch it the next day for themselves. Late Night on CNBC allowed everyone to be able to never miss an episode, even those who would have other obligations during the normal time slot.

I have a couple old VHS tapes, one of them is extremely old. I started to record my favorite Late Night moments years ago, starting somewhere back in 1996 or so, I don't know why it took me so long to think of doing so. The big problem is the first tape I was using was about ten years old when I began those recordings, so the quality has progressively gotten worse, not that it was stellar to begin with. Couple that with constant viewings and I'm sure it doesn't have much longer on it. I need to master it over digitally and get it archived. There's lots of good stuff on there, almost all the public service announcements, all the President In Crisis stuff, the first Central Time Zone New Year's Countdown (probably my favorite bit of them all), hours and hours of comedic gold. I love Late Night with Conan O'Brien, anyone that knows me knows that, and these tapes are the proof. Sadly, soon these tapes will be all the proof I have. That's why I have to preserve them, like scrapbook memories of times passed.

So Conan will close out his era on Late Night this Friday, and his set will be removed. Reruns will be shown for a couple weeks until Jimmy Fallon's Late Night begins, and Conan won't return to TV until this summer after Jay Leno closes out his run as host of The Tonight Show. At this time it's unknown (at least to final confirmations / denials, I won't believe things either way until I hear them from Conan himself) if Max and The Max Weinberg 7 will be joining Conan on The Tonight Show. Same with Joel Godard, Late Night's announcer and frequent skit actor. I doubt Joel will be making the move since last night's episode had a montage of clips from the past 17 years, a "best of Joel" if you would - excellent stuff. I suppose "the sweet release of death" (one of his running gags) may finally be upon him, at least with Late Night anyway (we love ya Joel, all the best!). Not to mention all the actors and writers that contribute and create the halarious antics that take place every night.

And I suppose that's where the sadness comes in. Things are changing, people are leaving, places are shifting. In a few months Conan will be back but things may be very different. Max may be there, some of the staff may be there, but it will be different. I'm sure the show will be great fun and I'm sure Conan will do very well with The Tonight Show - it's a post he has earned. Heck, I may like it more than the years at Late Night. However, it's the feeling of looking over your shoulder and knowing something is gone, that there's something there you spent so much time with that you can't go back to once more. It's high school graduation. It's a big jump. Let us hope everything goes smoothly. No matter how these writings may come across, I'm sure things will be just fine.

So this Friday I will be back in the central valley, back at my parent's place where most of my Conan watching took place during the "peak" years. (not to say the show has declined really, or that I haven't been watching constantly since 1994 or so, but to me 1997-2000 was the ultimate) So I'll sit there in that living room at the stroke of 12:35 and my brother and I will watch Conan run out on stage, hit his mark, and greet his Late Night fans one last time. I hope Buffalo has some quarters for the bus station TV. (you'll get it if you've watched for a long time)

I wish Conan and staff a prosperous and successful future... all the way to the year 2000.

EDIT: Conan has stated himself on his third to last episode that Max and the entire Max Weinberg 7 will be making the move to The Tonight Show with him - excellent news.

Also from that same episode, check out this video of Nathan Lane serenading Conan with a farewell song, touching clip.