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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

The Tonight Show – Episode 138

“My name is Conan O’Brien, and I may soon be available for children’s parties.”

Nick and I were drafting a post about Conan’s options. It wasn’t coming together for me, so Nick took a crack at it, and it sat in the drafts folder of the blog for most of the day yesterday. I get back from class, futz around on Twitter, and then I shout at Alisa, “He’s quitting!” (he’s really not (yet)). And the next 30 minutes involve reading reactions and thoughts about what will happen next (making our original post kind of pointless). Conan’s statement is him forcing NBC’s hand, making the issue of his and The Tonight Show‘s future one of semantics (is it still The Tonight Show if it starts tomorrow?), and with rumors about guest hosts circulating, no one could really guess what would happen on last night’s episode.

Conan looked tired. (Well, tireder than usual for a tall albino with that amazing hair.) Which isn’t surprising, considering he was supposedly up until the early morning, drafting his statement. In contrast, Jay Leno looked positively energized on his show tonight. (Yes, I watched it, Sandra Bullock eating BBQ and all.)  And Conan seemed to be expecting, and frankly ready, to go.

The monologue was almost exclusively focused on what NBC was doing with their late night line-up (Leno avoided talking about it too much), but did a few non-NBC jokes before doing a variation on the options clip above with a Deal or No Deal spin, complete with Howie Mandel and not exactly the regular case girls. And while a late night show taking jabs at the network is hardly anything new (hell, if you don’t it just seems like you’re sucking up), Conan’s barbs last night felt a little more raw, expressing thinly veiled disappointment and anger.

The skits in the program included a variation on the Downfall/Hitler meme with despotic world leaders chiming in on the rearranging of the schedule (though, someone’s already actually done it) and a black writer of the show coming out and explaining how NBC is a big pimp and each of the late night hosts are hoes. (Carson Daly is the freaky ho.) Both bits were funny, but only served to bring into fuller focus how Conan (probably) feels: even globally recognized horrible people feel bad about what’s happening to Conan, making NBC seem worse than tyrants by comparison, and then by turning Conan into a poorly treated hooker.

Both of the interview guests, Tom Brokaw and Zach Levi, took time to express sympathy for the situation and affection for Conan overall, though Brokaw conveyed feelings of sadness that Conan might be leaving the NBC family (it appears Conan gave Tina Fey her first thong (Brokaw may be lying, but I’m going to pretend he’s not)). Brokaw came off as the NBC flagbearer (and he is), seemingly almost to try and Conan to keep on being a good solider, and go with the network’s mandates. Conan’s didn’t seem too receptive to that, and moved onto discussing Brokaw’s American Character Along Highway 50 show. Conan’s conversation with Levi was a little looser (including Conan having little idea of what Levi’s overall role was in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (I refuse to type that full title)), though sadly they didn’t talk about Chuck.

Now when I say Conan didn’t seem receptive to being the good solider, I should point out that the show was nearly all NBC-U all night. Despite being a skit, the Deal or No Deal bit promoted the syndicated game show, Brokaw’s special airs on USA Network, and while Levi was on to promote Alvin, he indirectly promoted Chuck. (Sadly, GE/NBC-U doesn’t have a music label, so Roseanne Cash was left out of this NBC lovefest.) Conan’s promoting his company’s properites left and right (tomorrow, Ricky Gervais is on to talk about the Golden Globes airing on NBC), so you can’t say he’s not a team player even when the team doesn’t seem to want him on the field any longer.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens tomorrow. Will Conan be hosting? Will the air of disappointment, which has made Conan seem looser and funkier*, last until they just yank him from the air? I don’t think Conan will do anything really crazy (like bring back the Masturbating Bear), he respects the franchise far too much to do that, but I do hope this motivates his humor to new, caustic heights, and that he goes out with a real, glorious bang.

*In the spirit of full disclosure: I haven’t watched The Tonight Show since about August (coincided with my academic year starting up again but also a general lack of interest in the show). As a result, my evaluation of Conan’s looser and funkier feel is based on those initial months when he felt pretty stiff, trying to fit into mold of the franchise. He might’ve become more comfortable over time (Has Jimmy Fallon?), but I simply wouldn’t know.

Watch the full episode: Episode 138 [NBC]

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