An unusually serious and reflective Conan O’Brien appeared on 60 Minutes tonight to discuss his career, move to TBS and, most compellingly perhaps to most, his perspective on the chain of events that led to his leaving NBC and his short lived responsibilities as the Tonight Show host.
True to form, O’Brien mostly takes the high road and does not directly criticize Jay Leno, the man who O’Brien replaced, and then was replaced by, as the Tonight Show host.
He was not afraid, however, to share his feelings about what Leno did and contrast it to what he would have done. “He went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know…I know me, I wouldn’t have done that”, Conan said.
Conan also wants to make clear that people should not feel sorry for him. During the interview, O’Brien makes a point to say that nobody should think he somehow got ‘screwed’. He alluded to the fact that many people will come up to him and tell him that they believe he got ‘screwed’. O’Brien, implicitly pointing to the fact that he does what he loves to do for a living and that he gets paid an incomprehensible sum to do so, wants to put to lie any notion that he got a raw deal. O’Brien says, “…I have so many people say this to me. ‘Hey, partner, you got screwed’.” Conan said that he will say in response something to the effect of, “I’m…I’m fine. It just didn’t work out.”
In the interview, O’Brien goes on to say, “I don’t want people thinking, you know, that I got screwed. Because it just didn’t work out.”
The 60 Minutes interview comes as O’Brien prepares to begin as host of his own show on cable network TBS, with a start date currently planned for November.
The irony of all of this is that while O’Brien, despite what he says, clearly was not happy with the way his final days at NBC worked out (he refers to it as a ‘toxic’ environment), his move to TBS could actually ultimately make him more memorable, and more of a pioneer.
While it is no secret the landscape and influence of network television has changed, the idea that a late night talk show, by its very definition a vehicle to capture the masses, could thrive on a non-network channel would have been unheard of just a couple of years ago.
Most assume that despite his tepid ratings on NBC, O’Brien will never be able match the,m on TBS, which is a cable channel that many still have a hard time finding on their TV. But Conan’s core audience, which skews younger, is largely indifferent to the established networks that those over 35 years old still gravitate to. What difference does it really make, after all, to the DVR generation, who really only need to find TBS once to automatically record O’Brien’s shows?
And even more important, potentially, is that O’Brien will own his own show on TBS…something that would likely never have happened on the major networks. When a late night talk show host works a particular show, they are really a hired hand. When David Letterman moved from NBC to CBS, for example, he could not take many of the recurring characters (see Larry ‘Bud’ Melman) with him.
O’Brien, however will own the intellectual property that he produces and will ultimately have more control, and presumably less ratings pressure, via his contract with TBS.
As she shared once again on 60 Minutes, Conan’s long time ambition was to be the host of the Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was the godfather of late night talk (with apologies to Jack Parr), and multiple generations of comedians, one of which included O’Brien, grew up wanting to emulate him; to host the Tonight Show was considered the ultimate.
But the media, and society has changed from the days of Johnny Carson. While O’Brien did, at times, look a bit forlorn on the 60 Minutes interview tonight, in many ways he may be making the best move of his career…and that’s saying a lot.
At one point in the 60 Minutes interview, O’Brien said he does believe that “things happen for a reason”. Conan O’Brien may soon realize how right he is about that.
Source: Soraya Roberts, “Conan O’Brien to appear on CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ for first interview since leaving NBC’s ‘Tonight Show”, nydailynews.com