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Conan Parodies Dinner with Obama

Conan Parodies Dinner with Obama


Turns out, the president is an awfully rude dinner guest

While Obama's campaign emails might sound just a bit stalkerish, sounds like it's you're lucky you didn't get invited to his dinners. Conan O'Brien parodied the Dinner with Barack offerings from his campaign (donate $3 for a chance to win, etc.), and it turns out that Obama is a huge jerk.

In this (fake) promo video below, Obama talks directly to voters, showing them a behind-the-scenes video of his time with his supporters at the dinner table. While there's no mention of the food, Obama could definitely work on his manners. There he is, sitting at the dinner table, telling his guests, "You are right on the line between funny and embarrassing," or leaving with, "That's about as much as I can take from you people." He even has the gall to ask Michelle Obama (or is it the other guest?), "Sweetie, do you want me to redo your hair? Because this is a disaster."

Watch below for the full parody, introducing the new tagline: "Awesome president. Awful dinner guest."


Why Conan O’Brien Is A Boring — But Revealing — Host For White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

Ed Henry, the senior White House correspondent for Fox News who is the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, announced this morning that Conan O’Brien, who’s currently hosting a late-night show on TBS, will host the Association’s dinner this April. Ever since Stephen Colbert hosted the dinner in 2006 and turned it into a brutal critique of President Bush’s performance as president, the Association has made a series of relatively safe choices who are unlikely to make the president and his wife, members of the press, or anyone else particularly uncomfortable. O’Brien, judging by the evidence from his experience hosting the dinner in 1995, knows the score, though there is a pretty good joke about Ira Magaziner, who was President Clinton’s chief health-care policy adviser, having a 6,000-ingredient recipe for veal piccata, in reference to the length of his health care reform bill, which had died the previous year:

But it’s too bad the Association seems to have decided that their choices are between skewering the president and going relatively bland and toothless. There are other ways to be funny than to make the head guest in the room feel uncomfortable, and I wish the Association would think a little bit more creatively about their host choice on that score — and on other ones as well. Since the dinner began having hosts in 1944, only three women have ever hosted the event solo, Paula Poundstone in 1992, Elayne Boosler in 1993, and then no one else until Wanda Sykes in 2009. Why not have Amy Poehler break up that drought a little bit and host in character as Leslie Knope, whose good-government and love of Washington would provide a much kinder framework than Colbert’s to satirize the event she’d be summing up? Want someone who might be able to riff on the idea of President Obama as a symbol and as a man, but who probably wouldn’t go too politically brutal? Why not ask Kevin Hart, in part in recognition of his huge stand-up success — and in part because a black comedian hasn’t hosted the dinner solo since Sinbad in 1991?

I don’t mind O’Brien, but he’s a choice who represents the problems of the Association itself — white, male, catering at this point to a limited audience, and unlikely to offend anybody. His announcement comes at a moment when, as Dave Weigel has pointed out, Henry is throwing a temper tantrum because members of the Association weren’t allowed to take pictures of President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods, a fight that illustrates the White House press corps’ frequent focus on minutae and color over substance. I’m not saying thinking more creatively and independently about who is going to host the Association’s dinner will come close to fixing all the problems of the White House press corps. But it might help the Association consider who it wants to represent the organization on that dias, what role it thinks its’ members have, and its own capacity to take a joke — and criticism.


The 9 Nastiest Roasts From Previous White House Correspondents' Dinners

The White House Correspondents' Dinner is an opportunity for comedians to make a name for themselves and for presidents to show a sense of humor -- provided they decide to show up.

The WHCD has had performers since its initiation in 1921, including musicians and entertainers. In the 1980s, it became typical for comedians to host the affair.

Since then, the dinners have grown into broadcast events filled with an odd array of celebrities brought as guests of the media.

Hosts over the years have included everyone from young Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart in the 90s to Wanda Sykes and Cecily Strong in the Obama era.

The White House Correspondents' Dinner is a show of goodwill between the president and the press -- and that tense relationship requires quite a bit of laughter to survive.

By the end of the night, everyone from the president to media personalities to politicians to reality TV show hosts is playfully insulted.

Here are some of the best jokes and roasts from the past few decades:

1. Stephen Colbert goes off on George W. Bush in 2006.

This speech goes down as one of the most "damn." performances of all time. Standing right next to Bush, Colbert bashed him for 16 minutes straight.

In one of the toughest moments (around 7:20 in the video), Colbert says about Bush,

2. Obama shows up Jay Leno in 2010.

It's not always the comedians roasting the presidents. Sometimes it's the opposite.

Over the years, Obama showed true comedic skill at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, giving us all one more reason to love him.

In 2010, Leno hosted in the midst of that whole controversy between him and Conan O'Brien.

After going on about his own lowered approval rating, Obama said (around 2:30 in the video),

3. Conan O'Brien does a Bill Clinton impression in 1995.

Way back in 1995, O'Brien hosted the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

At one point (around 34 minutes), O'Brien puts an edited version of Clinton up on the big screen and does an "interview" with an outlandish version of the southerner's big personality.

Clinton could not stop laughing.

4. Craig Ferguson bashes Dick Cheney in 2008.

Cheney, if you don't recall, was vice president under Bush from 2001 to 2009. So in 2008, the administration was getting ready to leave the White House.

So Ferguson (around 19:30 in the video), said,

5. Seth Meyers makes fun of Obama for not knowing where Osama bin Laden is, but the joke was on Meyers in 2011.

"People think bin Laden is hiding in the Hindu Kush, but did you know that every day from four to five, he hosts a show on C-Span?" Meyers joked.

Little did anyone know, Obama knew exactly where bin Laden was. Hours later Obama would be watching the raid that would kill bin Laden.

6. Laura Bush interrupts her husband in 2005.

George is up there about to start a yarn when Laura walks up and takes over the microphone.

"Not that old joke," the First Lady said (1:00). "Not again."

The audience got up on their feet to applaud her. Bush continued,

She showed off her own jokes, even getting some timely "Desperate Housewives" references in there.

7. Keegan-Michael Key plays Obama's "anger translator" in 2015.

President Obama is known for his composed demeanor. So Key jumped in to show what was going on underneath that calm surface.

Between this and the 2011 dinner, we should all know to never play poker with Obama.

I mean, damn, that's some poker face.

8. Cedric the Entertainer jokes about Condoleezza Rice in 2005.

Cedric said Secretary of State Rice's name is "soulful" -- and contains two people. He said,

9. Obama slams Donald Trump. and accidentally inspires him to run for president in 2011.

I know, I know, I know, Obama again. But he's so good!

So back in 2011, Obama went on a long stream about Trump and his racist birther movement.

"Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is prouder to put this birth certificate to rest than the Donald," Obama said. "Now he can get to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"

Obama went on to say about Trump,

Obama made more jokes about what Trump would be like as president.

According to legend, it was this public humiliation that led Trump to actually run for president (although Trump has denied that).

And so here we are, in 2017, with Trump as president, not going to the White House Correspondents' Dinner.


O snap! President Obama, Conan O'Brien dish out jokes at WHCA dinner

It was a cast of thousands on a very crowded set: For the 99th time, the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner has come and gone on a tide of tuxedos, talking points and a certain license to be daring, minus the political risk.

“How do you like my new entrance music?” President Obama asked the crowd Saturday night, after arriving on the dais to the strains of rap music.

“Rush Limbaugh warned you about this &mdash second term, baby. We’re changing things around here,” he said, later noting he had felt the weight of office.

“I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be,” he observed.

Levity was therapy. Having fought their way to the ballroom through hallways and down escalators, the 2,700 guests were ready for a goof, not a gaffe.

Indeed, the evening’s entertainer Conan O’Brien compared the news media to a high school cafeteria, declaring that “Fox is the jocks, MSNBC the nerds, bloggers the Goths &mdash NPR is the table for kids with peanut allergies, Al-Jazeera is the weird foreign exchange student.”

He marveled over the fact that Wayne La Pierre is “merely” the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

“How freaking crazy do you have to be the president of the NRA?” Mr. O’Brien demanded.

That particular title belongs to one David Keene, a guest of The Washington Times for the evening.

He was most agreeable about the festivities.

“I like this event. Been to a quite a few. But I am particularly looking forward to Sunday, when I am going fishing in Virginia,” Mr. Keene said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus &mdash also a Times guest and the butt of several jokes &mdash remained in good humor as well.

“I’m looking everywhere for Donald Driver to come brighten my day, but I can’t find him anywhere,” Mr. Priebus quipped, referring to the former Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver who graced “Dancing With the Stars” for a season.

“Hollywood may think the Oscars are great. But this event is about real power, real celebrity and real politics, and there’s nothing else like it,” noted radio host Armstrong Williams, also a guest of The Washington Times.

A pair of star athletes agreed.

“I love this. It’s incredible,” said Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who attended the dinner with The Times, along with relief pitcher Tyler Clippard.

“I’m used to being alone in the middle of a stadium. So this is a pretty amazing experience,” Mr. Clippard agreed.

Was the night similar to the 98 other dinners that preceded it?

Well, yes and no. There were many, many cocktails but no messy drunks. The crowd was beautifully dressed. The fare set was top-drawer &mdash delicate fish and savory beef, offset by baby vegetables and fancy potatoes.

There was some traditional do-gooding.

Aspiring young journalists who shared the $100,000 in scholarship funds were lauded onstage by Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, plus Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, the current president of the White House Correspondents Association and master of ceremonies.

He urged the young folks to aim high and he told his press colleagues to mind their credibility and honor their audiences.

By 11 p.m., it was all over, and another great migration commenced as the thousands sought their cars and limos, some seeking the fancy after-parties, others mindful of Sunday. And Monday.

“This is an opportunity, really. It’s an opportunity for Congress, the administration, the press and the famous to come together, essentially for a good cause,” summed up Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican. “There’s money for scholarships as a result, and that is a positive thing.”


White House Correspondents' Dinner 2013

Carolyn Kaster First lady Michelle Obama, right, and late-night television host Conan O'Brien attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama ackowledges late-night television host and comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Evan Agostini Actor Hugh Dancy, left, his wife, actress Claire Danes from the Washington-based Showtime series "Homeland", and journalist Bob Schieffer attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday April 27, 2013 in Washington. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Carolyn Kaster Michael Douglas poses for a photo during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster Actor Patrick Stewart, left, attends the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster Singer John Legend and model Chrissy Teigen attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Evan Agostini WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Commentator Bill O'Reilly talks with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Carolyn Kaster Singer and actress Barbra Streisand, left, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia poses for a photo during the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama attended the yearly dinner which is attended by journalists, celebrities and politicians. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Comedian Conan O'Brien delivers a comedy routine during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Carolyn Kaster Actor James Brolin laughs during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus looks on during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Carolyn Kaster Producer George Lucas attends the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

CHRIS KLEPONIS Former Speaker of The House of Representative Newt Gingrich and his wife Calista Gingrich speak to the media upon arriving at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington DC, April 27, 2013. AFP Photo/ Chris KLEPONIS

Evan Agostini WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Director Steven Spielberg prepares to take his seat at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Evan Agostini Actors Matthew Perry, left, and Bradley Whitford attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday April 27, 2013 in Washington. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Carolyn Kaster First lady Michelle Obama laughs as she sits next to late-night television host and comedian Conan O'Brien, left, during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Actor Kevin Spacey looks on during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: First lady Michelle Obama reacts to a joke told by comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Comedian Conan O'Brien delivers a comedy routine during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI Actress Claire Danes mingles with guests during the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama attended the yearly dinner which is attended by journalists, celebrities and politicians. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: U.S. President Barack Obama reacts to a joke told by comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI US first lady Michelle Obama speaks with Comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama attended the yearly dinner which is attended by journalists, celebrities and politicians. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

The Obamas’ most notable pop culture appearances

Inspired by the real first date between Barack Obama and Michelle (not-yet-Obama) Robinson, the movie “Southside With You” gives audiences a glimpse at the blossoming romance between the future president and first lady of the United States. While the love story of a sitting president may not seem like usual romantic movie fare, breaking away from the status quo is what the Obamas do best.

No other president or first lady has been as entertainment- and pop culture-savvy as the Obamas. Both have been unafraid to make their rounds on TV to promote their causes including affordable healthcare, education and fighting childhood obesity.

Whatever your political affiliation, it’s hard to deny that Americans have gotten to know (or at least feel like they’ve gotten to know) the first family in a way that was unimaginable before the current age of social and viral media. Of course, it’s not just the number of their cameos and interviews that have helped their pop culture popularity – it’s that in these appearances they seem like real people, in a real loving relationship, who really love their kids.

In addition to his various late-night TV appearances, President Obama has been deemed funny enough to qualify for an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” He also showed he understood and was unafraid of tapping into the zeitgeist when he called upon his anger translator Luthor (from “Key & Peele,” played by Keegan-Michael Key himself) to join him at the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

First Lady Obama has made her own mark from high-fiving Leslie Knope (on “Parks and Recreation) to “random dancing” with the kids of “iCarly” and sitting down for a talk with Rory Gilmore, all while promoting her Let’s Move and Let Girls Learn initiatives.

If the Obamas’ appearances alone don’t make it apparent that they are pop culture consumers and connoisseurs, let’s not forget that they actually introduced us to “Hamilton” years before it was Broadway’s hottest show.

Here are some of our favorite pop culture moments from President and First Lady Obama.


White House Correspondents' Dinner 2013

Carolyn Kaster First lady Michelle Obama, right, and late-night television host Conan O'Brien attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama ackowledges late-night television host and comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Evan Agostini Actor Hugh Dancy, left, his wife, actress Claire Danes from the Washington-based Showtime series "Homeland", and journalist Bob Schieffer attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday April 27, 2013 in Washington. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Carolyn Kaster Michael Douglas poses for a photo during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster Actor Patrick Stewart, left, attends the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster Singer John Legend and model Chrissy Teigen attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Evan Agostini WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Commentator Bill O'Reilly talks with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Carolyn Kaster Singer and actress Barbra Streisand, left, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia poses for a photo during the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama attended the yearly dinner which is attended by journalists, celebrities and politicians. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Comedian Conan O'Brien delivers a comedy routine during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Carolyn Kaster Actor James Brolin laughs during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus looks on during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Carolyn Kaster Producer George Lucas attends the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

CHRIS KLEPONIS Former Speaker of The House of Representative Newt Gingrich and his wife Calista Gingrich speak to the media upon arriving at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington DC, April 27, 2013. AFP Photo/ Chris KLEPONIS

Evan Agostini WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Director Steven Spielberg prepares to take his seat at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Evan Agostini Actors Matthew Perry, left, and Bradley Whitford attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday April 27, 2013 in Washington. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Carolyn Kaster First lady Michelle Obama laughs as she sits next to late-night television host and comedian Conan O'Brien, left, during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Actor Kevin Spacey looks on during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: First lady Michelle Obama reacts to a joke told by comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Comedian Conan O'Brien delivers a comedy routine during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI Actress Claire Danes mingles with guests during the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama attended the yearly dinner which is attended by journalists, celebrities and politicians. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Pool WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: U.S. President Barack Obama reacts to a joke told by comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI US first lady Michelle Obama speaks with Comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama attended the yearly dinner which is attended by journalists, celebrities and politicians. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Contents

On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson, host of NBC's The Tonight Show for nearly 30 years, retired from the program at the age of 66. The network signed Jay Leno, Carson's "permanent guest host", to become the program's fourth host upon Carson's exit. Carson clearly held the view the position should be given to David Letterman, host of his own program, Late Night, which had directly followed Carson's Tonight Show for ten years. NBC tried to appease both stars, but Letterman left the network in a very public conflict that resulted in the creation of his own competing show on CBS, which began in 1993. Late Show with David Letterman, "the first truly substantial competing franchise to Tonight", regularly won in the Nielsen ratings against Leno for two years, "proving for the first time that late-night television—and the profits that came with it—could exist beyond The Tonight Show." [3]

Leno's Tonight Show started rocky prior to Letterman's move, NBC considered matching CBS's offer to allow Letterman to take over from Leno. [4] Letterman beat Leno for nearly two years until August 1995, when Leno welcomed Hugh Grant, who had recently been arrested for soliciting a prostitute ("What the hell were you thinking?", Leno asked, to applause), to a previously-booked appearance on Tonight. From that point on, Leno beat Letterman in the ratings, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno remained number one for the next 14 years (for Leno's entire run).

NBC chose to continue the Late Night franchise, and at the suggestion of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, hired Conan O'Brien, a relatively unknown writer for SNL and The Simpsons, to take over the time slot beginning in late 1993. Late Night with Conan O'Brien was constantly at risk for cancellation in its early years at one low point in 1994, NBC threatened to put him on a week-to-week contract. Executives were anxious to replace him with Greg Kinnear, who followed O'Brien with Later at 1:30 am., but Kinnear left to pursue a career in acting later on. [5] Interns filled empty seats in the audience while affiliates began to inquire about replacement hosts. [6] [7] Things improved for the show slowly (mostly revolving around O'Brien's performance) and by 1996, O'Brien's audience, largely young and male (a coveted demographic), grew steadily and the show began to beat competitors in the ratings, which it would continue to do for 15 years. [5]

A notable episode of O'Brien's tenure at the show came when Letterman asked to appear as a guest and say some kind words to him. [8] O'Brien considered this the turning point that changed everything for him, which he mentioned while paying tribute to Letterman in an opening monologue of his own talk show on TBS, which aired the same night as Letterman's final show O'Brien notably asked his viewers to turn him off and watch Letterman later on in the monologue. [9]

Contract renewals (2001–2004) Edit

Near the turn of the millennium, NBC's late-night lineup—Leno at 11:35, O'Brien at 12:35, and Saturday Night Live on the weekend—remained a leader in the ratings. [3] By 2001, O'Brien's contract at NBC had less than a year left to run, and despite arguably "coming into his own" in the preceding years, the network was reluctant to pay him on the same scale as other late-night hosts. [10] That year, competing network Fox mounted an "extended, comprehensive campaign" to lure O'Brien away from NBC, viewing his style suitable for Fox's image—"young, hip, somewhat subversive". [10] News Corporation chairman and CEO Peter Chernin pursued O'Brien personally, taking him and executive producer Jeff Ross to dinner on several occasions. Fox's plan involved making O'Brien the network's signature star: his program would begin 30 minutes before Leno's and Letterman's (the network's local news broadcasts aired earlier than other networks, allowing the head start) and he would receive cross-promotion via its animated division and on Sunday NFL games. [10] Chernin also offered the host seven times his current pay (a jump from US$3 million to US$21 million). [11] Ross, friends with NBC president and CEO Jeff Zucker, informed him that Fox was aggressively pursuing O'Brien NBC returned with a more realistic offer, bumping up O'Brien's salary to US$8 million and renewing him through 2005. [12]

While many of O'Brien's professional advisors and managers pushed for the Fox deal, O'Brien's desire to one day perhaps take over The Tonight Show after Leno made it a difficult decision (O'Brien, like many comedians, had grown up idolizing Carson's incarnation). [11] Chernin warned O'Brien that waiting around for Leno to leave would be "only an invitation to long-term disappointment, and potentially a path toward undermining a promising career." [11] Nevertheless, O'Brien signed a new deal with NBC in March 2002 the contract extended him through 2005 and most significantly contained an "explicit Prince of Wales clause" that solidified the official line of succession: If anything were to happen to Leno, O'Brien would step in. [13] O'Brien's successful hosting job at the 2002 54th Primetime Emmy Awards "sent out the most resounding message yet about his growing strength as a performer", [14] and a year later, NBC broadcast O'Brien's tenth anniversary special in primetime. [15] By the time Leno's contract again came up for renewal, a discussion would be needed regarding the future of The Tonight Show. Facing the prospect of attempting to keep both Leno and O'Brien, Zucker made the final call on Leno's deal: "Yes, we'll extend your deal. But this is your last contract. Time to hand over the keys." [16] The plan would extend Leno four additional years, after which he would give The Tonight Show to O'Brien.

In February 2004, NBC executive Marc Graboff informed Ross of the conversations, and he in turn ran the idea of waiting four more years to O'Brien, who was immediately receptive. [17] Zucker, along with top late-night executive Rick Ludwin, met with Leno in March at his Burbank studio to discuss the contract extension, and explained the network's stance on handing over the show to O'Brien. [18] While Leno quietly felt both disappointed and befuddled, he noted he did not want to see himself and O'Brien go through the same dilemma he and Letterman faced twelve years earlier, and agreed to the plans. [18] His only request was that NBC wait to announce O'Brien's installment as host well after the extension, to which the executives agreed. [19] While Leno handled the news professionally (to Zucker's relief), he soon headed to Tonight Show producer Debbie Vickers' office to let her know he felt as if he had just been fired. [19] NBC's announcement of the renewal inevitably led to press speculation on O'Brien's fate to that end, O'Brien and his team went with the charade, peppering interviews with unclear, vague statements on his future. [20] On September 27, 2004, O'Brien officially signed on to become the next host of The Tonight Show NBC allowed the first comment aside from the press release to come from Leno on that night's show. [21] [22] "'Cause this, you know, this show is like a dynasty," Leno said. "You hold it, and then you hand it off to the next person. And I don't want to see all the fighting and all the 'Who's better?' and nasty things back and forth in the press. So right now, here it is—Conan, it's yours! See you in five years, buddy!" [23] [24] [25]

Losing Leno (2005–2008) Edit

In reality, Leno was incredulous. In private conversations, he likened his removal from The Tonight Show to the end of a relationship, noting that he was loyal and still ended up "heartbroken". [26] [27] From his perspective, NBC's decision made no sense, as his show had remained number one in ratings and consistently brought in money. [27] He began frequently lamenting his confusion to producer Vickers, explaining that he was "sick of lying" when people inquired on his retirement. [28] Eventually, he began mulling over his options after Tonight, telling his staff that after the transition, they could simply move to ABC and work at the Disney lot not far from their current Burbank studio. [29] His frustration with the situation came across in his nightly monologues, as more jokes regarding NBC's fourth-place position in the ratings, as well as jokes regarding the future transition, began to appear. [29] While NBC executives tended to not worry in the immediate years following the decision, by 2007 Zucker began to ponder what losing Leno might mean for the network. [30] Around this time, Fox and ABC began to court Leno privately, conveying interest and holding discreet conversations. [5] [31]

Among the offers made to Leno by NBC's competitors were a lucrative one for a syndicated program by Sony Pictures Television. In early 2008, Zucker began to make trips to the Burbank studio in an effort to keep Leno. [32] He gave him numerous suggestions, including a Bob Hope-type deal (high-profile specials), a Sunday night primetime show, or even a nightly cable show on USA Network (owned by NBCUniversal). [33] [5] Executives began to entertain an ideal solution—pay off O'Brien and retain Leno—but Zucker viewed the idea as "outrageous". [34] By this time, NBC had already broken ground on a new studio for O'Brien's Tonight Show, renovating Stage 1 at the Universal lot in Universal City, for a reported US$50 million. [35] During a spring lunch meeting with Jeff Ross, NBC sports chief Dick Ebersol advised that O'Brien retire silly antics (such as his signature "string dance") and focus more on pitching his show to middle America, which would involve stretching out his monologue. [36] O'Brien, then a year away from inheriting the sacred ground of The Tonight Show, was indeed lengthening his monologue, but viewed suggestions from Ludwin as largely unnecessary: "I think people are overthinking the twelve-thirty-to-eleven-thirty shift", he said, instead desiring to put his own stamp on the show's tradition. [37] By this point, O'Brien's high popularity at the time of the contract signing had gone down slightly. He had opted not to change his act to suit a more mainstream audience as NBC imagined he would, and CBS's Craig Ferguson, who occupied the post-Letterman slot, had begun to occasionally beat O'Brien in overall ratings. [38] Though internal anxiety increased among executives, most tended to still support O'Brien. [38]

Zucker's last resort for Leno was a nightly 10 pm program. [5] As ratings had slipped entirely for 10 pm shows on NBC, he imagined a nightly Leno at 10 could perhaps produce a "paradigm shift" and reverse NBC's fortunes. [38] On December 8, 2008, Leno verbally agreed to stay at the network—producing a nightly 10 pm variety show titled The Jay Leno Show—and phoned ABC and Fox to inform them. [39] [40] Zucker and Ludwin planned to meet with O'Brien later to explain the deal, but as word leaked out to The New York Times, they decided to meet with him directly following that night's show. [41] Following the meeting, Ross and O'Brien met with writers and mulled over the decision. O'Brien instantly felt uneasy, but as he was still in essence receiving The Tonight Show, he remained calm. [42] [5] Late Night with Conan O'Brien officially signed off the following February, followed by The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on May 29. [43] Much of O'Brien's entire staff moved cross-country to Los Angeles to prepare his version of The Tonight Show. [44] He and his staff threw themselves into developing the program, but remained concerned regarding NBC's commitment—or lack of one. [45] Meanwhile, senior level executives at NBC predicted that Leno's show would be roundly beaten by hour-long dramas on competing networks and cable, dooming the network's experiment. [5]

In announcing his 10 pm show on The Tonight Show, Leno said, "People are asking me, 'What are you going to do after the last show? Are you going to go on vacation?' This kind of stuff. Actually, I'm going to a secluded spot where no one can find me: NBC primetime. As most of you know, we're not really leaving. We're coming back at 10 o'clock in September. It's a gamble. It's a gamble. I'm betting everything that NBC will still be around in three months! That is not a given!" [46]

The Tonight Show and The Jay Leno Show debut Edit

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien pulled in over nine million viewers to its June 1, 2009, premiere, doing extremely well in the coveted young demographics. [47] Critics were generally very favorable Tom Shales of The Washington Post, once an O'Brien detractor, wrote that "There's every indication that O'Brien will be up to the job of his illustrious predecessors." [48] Older audiences, however, gradually turned off program night later into the night. Seven episodes later, the Late Show with David Letterman had edged above O'Brien for the first time. [47] [49] While Zucker called O'Brien to reiterate that the generational change was expected, other executives were not as pleased. O'Brien and his team were not happy with the lack of promotion in the show's early weeks. [50] Against the wishes of several PR executives, Zucker authorized a press release proclaiming O'Brien "the New King of Late Night", a move that attracted ridicule. Zucker later regretted the decision, and many at O'Brien's Tonight Show offices were displeased. [51]

Over the following weeks, Zucker grew weary with O'Brien's performance and what he regarded as a booking of the wrong stars. [52] When a controversy erupted over a joke Letterman told regarding politician Sarah Palin's family, Zucker eagerly pushed the O'Brien camp to bring her on their show, eyeing an opportunity to regain viewers and perhaps make it a turning point for a show not doing particularly well. [53] O'Brien disliked the idea, finding it pandering to viewers that would alienate fans and the press, as well as hurt his relationship with Letterman. "This reaction drove Zucker nuts", wrote Bill Carter in The War for Late Night. [53] "As a producer, he knew how to manipulate audiences—that was simply what you did as part of the job. [ . ] As a boss, he couldn't believe Conan would stand in the way of what was obviously the smart business move—for him and his network." [53] Meanwhile, Letterman continued to score higher ratings than O'Brien with regularity his fall interview with President Barack Obama topped The Tonight Show by over 2.6 million viewers, and the next week, a scandal involving attempted extortion and personal affairs made him the talk of the country. [54] [55] By August, The Tonight Show was still losing to Letterman in total viewers, but, owing to O'Brien's appeal to a young audience, maintained its lead in the touted demographics. [56]

Meanwhile, Leno was candid regarding his plans for his new show: "Even though it's ten o'clock, we're going to pretend it's eleven thirty." [57] The Jay Leno Show premiered on September 14, 2009, featuring guests Jerry Seinfeld and Kanye West, shortly after West's infamous rant against Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. The program racked up 18.4 million viewers, doing much better than O'Brien's Tonight Show debut in both overall numbers and young demographics. [58] Some critics were harsh with Leno's program, with many viewing it as a rehash of the show he had just left. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times said one of its sponsors' commercials was funnier than the show itself, saying, "This is the future of television? This wasn't even a good rendition of television past." [59] By the show's second week, which saw it airing directly opposite season premieres, The Jay Leno Show saw its audience size fall to six million viewers. [60] [61] As the weeks wore on, producer Vickers noticed that NBC's plan—to save the best segments, such as Leno's signature "Headlines", for last in order to provide a strong lead-in for local news—was possibly hurting the program. [62] One month in, Leno often only made third place, and executives became more uneasy. [63]

Slipping numbers Edit

Ratings for NBC affiliates' local news broadcasts at 11 began to slip by mid-October, especially on NBC owned-and-operated stations in the largest markets, creating high anxiety for the network. [63] [64] The Tonight Show still retained a slightly higher share of the coveted 18–24 demographic against Letterman, but saw those numbers slip even more when The Jay Leno Show began. [65] Affiliates began to complain, and in addition to a domino effect on the local news, O'Brien, and his 12:30 am successor, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the disastrous ratings for Leno had damaged NBC's existing primetime lineups. [66] [67] This cascading effect caused by the lowered 10 pm lead-in was so significant that local news viewership fell an average of twenty-five percent nationwide, with the decline in some markets being as high as fifty percent. [68] By November, two months after the debut of The Jay Leno Show, ratings for The Tonight Show were brought down "roughly two million viewers a night year-to-year" from when Leno hosted the program. [69] Clearing the 10 pm time period for Leno also damaged relations with the producers of shows that previously occupied that slot, such as Law & Order: SVU 's Dick Wolf. [66] Leno offered an October 29 interview to Broadcasting & Cable, which included a notable exchange on the possibility of ever returning to the 11:35 slot: "If it were offered to me, would I take it? If that's what they wanted to do, sure. That would be fine if they wanted to." [70] Industry trades were abuzz over the 11:35 comment, and when Conan sidekick Andy Richter called the move less than "classy" in a chat with TV Squad, Leno called Ludwin to complain. [70]

As most programs went into repeats in December, the staff at Leno, notably Vickers, had focused on grabbing big-name guests for that month in an effort to save the show these efforts were cut short when she was informed they had "until the end of November". [71] Affiliate calls came at an alarming rate, [72] and research analysis revealed O'Brien's drastically reduced median age for The Tonight Show—age 56 to 46—could possibly reflect that he was too "niche" for the earlier time. [73] Any effort to take Leno off the air was halted by his contract, which had a highly unusual "pay-and-play" provision, in contrast to the typical "pay-or-play" agreement, which guaranteed NBC would both air his program and pay him for up to two years. [72] On November 6, NBC chairman Jeff Gaspin received an email from the sales division with a suggestion to cancel O'Brien and reinstate Leno as host of The Tonight Show. [71] Upon Gaspin's legal interpretation of Leno's contract, the option to simply move Leno back to The Tonight Show became relevant. [72] When very poor ratings came in for the November sweeps period, affiliates became and board members demanded something be done regarding the 10 pm lead-in. [74]

If something were not done by January, the affiliates reasoned, they would instate syndicated programming or move up their news broadcasts and pre-empt Leno. [74] Desperate for a decision, Ludwin, Gaspin, and Zucker kicked around possible solutions for their dilemma, such as cutting Leno to a few nights per week. [75] In an attempt to alleviate the situation, Vickers moved the most popular comedy segments to the second act of The Jay Leno Show, moving their "10 at 10" segment to later in the broadcast. [75] Gaspin again received the suggestion to put Leno back at 11:35, and soon began working on a plan to cut The Jay Leno Show to a half-hour, leading into Conan's Tonight Show around midnight. [76] From their perspective, the biggest casualty in this scenario would be Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which would get bumped to 1 am. [76] The reconfigured lineup could start in March 2010, following NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics. [77] Zucker preferred a plan for Leno to include an occasional guest and comedy piece, while Dick Ebersol favored returning to the way it once was, with Leno at 11:35 and O'Brien at 12:35. [78] Gaspin laid out his plan to Zucker one week before Christmas, but both agreed to wait it out for the new year, as to not "ruin anybody's holiday season". [77]

Proposed changes Edit

The plan moved forward after confirmation that O'Brien's contract did not guarantee a strict 11:35 PM start time (a loophole included primarily to accommodate sports pre-emptions and specials such as the network's New Year coverage). [80] [81] Gaspin planned to disclose the news to Leno first, and then, if all went well, inform O'Brien the following week. [82] When Gaspin laid out the proposal to Leno and Vickers, the response was positive, even though they questioned how such a plan would work. Gaspin reasoned that the company was in a desperate situation, and he indicated his confidence that O'Brien would go along with the changes too. [81] While Leno embraced the plan, Vickers was unnerved without a guest or music act, she might have no studio audience, which could have disastrous consequences for Leno. [83] In order to meet with O'Brien the following Monday, Gaspin was forced to cancel a meeting with the affiliate board, but promised them that by doing so, he would have an answer to the 10 pm problem that would "likely be something [they'd be] happy with". After his January 6 show, O'Brien met with manager Gavin Polone, and lamented his anxiety with the ratings: "I just think [Leno] is going to hurt me in some way." [84]

News regarding Leno leaked to FTV Live by the following morning, [85] which set the Internet abuzz with rumors regarding both Leno's and O'Brien's fates. [86] [87] [88] Gaspin scheduled an immediate meeting with Ross and O'Brien as soon as they arrived and explained the proposed changes. "I know how hard I worked for this", responded O'Brien. "It was promised to me. I had a shitty lead-in." [89] Following the tense 15-minute meeting, O'Brien and Ross returned to the Tonight studio. TMZ reported on the story with a headline reading, "NBC Shakeup Jay Leno Comes Out on Top." [90] O'Brien called an emergency staff meeting and assured all that they had not been canceled and all would be fine. [90] The TMZ story deeply bothered O'Brien ("the timing of the leak to TMZ—coming so soon after a story that Jay had been canceled—screamed of an attempt at diversionary action"), and he and Ross reasoned that they indeed were the last to be told of the changes. [91]

By the following morning, both men determined that they would have to leave NBC, [92] and O'Brien opened that night's show with "We've got a great show for you tonight—I have no idea when it will air, but it's gonna be a great show." [93] Polone viewed the move as a reactionary one by Zucker, concluding that he was acting in self-preservation, since NBCUniversal owner General Electric (GE) was in the process of negotiating the sale of a controlling interest in the company to cable operator Comcast. [94] When a story ran that night on The New York Times website that Fox had an "overt interest" in O'Brien and was not going along with the plan, [95] Zucker reasoned that Polone was to blame. The situation became heated when Zucker placed a call to O'Brien's agent, Rick Rosen, inquiring on the story and demanding an immediate answer from the O'Brien camp. [96] Gaspin spoke about the situation at a previously scheduled press conference that Sunday, noting that "I obviously couldn't satisfy either with 100 percent of what they wanted. That's why I came up with this compromise." [97] Zucker, upon hearing that O'Brien still did not take the proposal well, threatened Rosen, saying "I'm going to tell you right now that I can pay him or play him. I can ice you guys." [98] On the following Monday's show, O'Brien continued jokes on the subject responding to thunderous applause, he joked, "You keep that up, and this monologue won't start until 12:05." [99]

"People of Earth" Edit

Rosen suggested they hire "perhaps the best known (and most feared) litigation lawyer in Hollywood", Patty Glaser, to help grasp the situation. [100] Following discussions on Leno's contract during a post-show conference, Glaser turned her attention to O'Brien for his opinion. He expressed his desire to write a statement expressing his feelings on the matter, and after hearing what he would possibly say in such a statement, Glaser agreed to the idea, although Ross was initially reluctant. [101] O'Brien went without sleep that night, crafting his statement obsessively. [101] He returned to the studio the following morning, listening as the lawyers and Glaser read over the statement (it remained largely unchanged before publication). [102] According to The War for Late Night, Glaser found "the statement as ideal for their purposes. It laid out Conan's point of view unequivocally, but without compromising his legal options. Nothing in there overtly said he was quitting, so he could not be accused of forsaking his contractual obligations." [102]

O'Brien's press release went out mid-day on January 12, which he addressed to "People of Earth":

For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't the Tonight Show. [ . ] So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. [103] [104] [105]

According to The War for Late Night, "the 'People of Earth' letter—the manifesto, as NBC came to call it—changed the tone of the conflict. No longer was Conan merely declining NBC's compromise, but leveling harsh public criticism at the network. [106] However, the moment that "represented the point of no return" came that Wednesday night, as a "clearly liberated" O'Brien joked in his monologue, "I'm trying very hard to stay positive here, and I want to tell you something. This is honest. Hosting The Tonight Show has been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me. And I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life. Yeah, yeah—unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too." [107] Following the joke, Leno called Gaspin, asking, "Why the fuck am I giving up a half hour for this guy?" [108] Conversations changed to focus on what O'Brien would require to resolve the matter, and parties began to discuss a settlement. [109]

Public support for O'Brien Edit

Public reaction was overwhelmingly in favor of O'Brien during the conflict. In the days following the switch announcement, 88% of related Twitter posts expressed support for O'Brien. [110] Over one million people joined the two most prominent Facebook groups supporting O'Brien: "Team Conan" and "I'm With CoCo" (referring to an on-air nickname applied to O'Brien during his Tonight Show reign). [111] Artist Mike Mitchell designed a poster reminiscent of the Obama "Hope" poster, showing O'Brien superimposed with an American flag in the background and the caption "I'm With Coco". The poster was widely circulated and displayed online and at various rallies. The color orange also became the choice of color for O'Brien fans, referencing his light orange hair. [112] O'Brien's overnight ratings began to shoot up (much to NBC's chagrin), and the viral support for O'Brien only increased by the week of his final shows. [113]

Rallies in support of O'Brien were organized outside NBC studios across the United States, notably in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and New York City. [114] O'Brien briefly appeared at a January 18 rally outside the Tonight Show studio, [115] after which he gave the crowd free pizza. [116] The show's announcer Andy Richter and drummer Max Weinberg also made an appearance during the rally to speak to the crowd from atop the Tonight Show studio, and Tonight Show Band trombonist Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg was driven around the crowd in a Popemobile-style vehicle. [117] American Red Cross representatives were at a number of the rallies to collect money for the Haiti earthquake relief. [118] [119]

Many in Hollywood expressed support for O'Brien, including Roger Ebert, [120] Sarah Silverman, [121] Will Ferrell, [122] Jim Gaffigan, [123] Jeff Garlin, Jim Carrey, Aziz Ansari, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Paul F. Tompkins, [124] Doug Benson, [125] Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, [126] Alyssa Milano, [127] Chris Parnell, [128] Marlee Matlin, [129] Judd Apatow [130] Ben Stiller, [131] Ice-T, [129] Matthew Perry, [129] Norm Macdonald, [132] Howard Stern, and Ricky Gervais. [133] Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers addressed the controversy on the program's Weekend Update segment, joking that the conflict showed that "you don't need Cinemax to see someone get screwed on TV", and then proceeding to defend O'Brien. [134] Meyers went on to sarcastically point out that if they did end up moving The Tonight Show, it would mean Late Night would end and host Jimmy Fallon would likely end up coming back to Update (and presumably reclaim his job from Meyers). [134]

Criticism of Leno Edit

Leno faced heated criticism and increasing negative publicity for his perceived role in the timeslot conflict, with some critics predicting that his reputation—along with those of Jeff Zucker and NBC—had been permanently damaged by the incident. [135] [136] [137] [138] Critics pointed to the 2004 Tonight Show clip wherein Leno claimed he would allow O'Brien to take over without incident. [138] [139] Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt was among the first celebrities to openly voice disappointment with Leno, saying, "Comedians who don't like Jay Leno now, and I'm one of them, we're not like, 'Jay Leno sucks' it's that we're so hurt and disappointed that one of the best comedians of our generation… willfully has shut the switch off." [140] Rosie O'Donnell was among O'Brien's most vocal and vehement supporters, [141] [142] calling Leno a "bully" and his actions "classless and kind of career-defining". [143] Howard Stern was a harsh critic of Leno before and after the timeslot change announcement [144] Stern had previously appeared on Late Night in 2006, and told O'Brien that he felt it was unlikely that Leno would ever willingly give up Tonight to anyone. [145] The 67th Golden Globe Awards, which NBC aired on January 17 during O'Brien's settlement negotiations, featured numerous jokes on the controversy by Tina Fey and Tom Hanks, as well as show host Ricky Gervais who quipped, "Let's get on with it before NBC replaces me with Jay Leno." [146]

Additional criticism stemmed from the fact that the circumstances O'Brien found himself in recalled a similar dilemma that faced Leno toward the end of 1992. Only months into his hosting job on The Tonight Show, NBC considered reversing their decision to choose Leno over Letterman. Leno was aghast and angry that NBC refused to exhibit clear commitment to him as the franchise's new host, and expressed this disappointment publicly. He also made explicit that he would leave the network if he was asked to move back an hour to accommodate Letterman, saying, "I'm not going to do some little happy hour from Omaha at 12:30." [147]

Commentators also faulted Leno for what they perceived as a disingenuous attempt on the host's part to forge an "everyman" persona in the way he carried himself throughout the controversy. During the episode of The Jay Leno Show that aired after it was made public that Leno had been offered the 11:35 time slot back, Leno portrayed himself as an ingenuous employee merely following NBC's instructions, making a point of stating "I don't have a manager, I don't have an agent" and referring to his preference of making direct, "handshake" deals. [148] Despite his claim of having no representation, Leno retained an agent (Steve Levine of International Creative Management [149] ), a publicist, [150] and entertainment lawyers. [151]

Comedian Bill Burr found that Leno's ambition to take back The Tonight Show was less objectionable than his "passive-aggressive" behavior and the "powerless" public image Leno put forth instead of "owning up" to his maneuverings. Burr argued that NBC "never gave [Conan] The Tonight Show" in terms of network support, saying, "When Jay got The Tonight Show, he didn't have to follow Johnny [Carson] bombing for an hour. [ . ] Leno struggled for eighteen months before he got going, and he got to go on after a hit show." [152]

Comedian Jeff Garlin accused NBC of being "cheap", suggesting that the network tempted O'Brien with his dream job of hosting The Tonight Show because they did not want him to go to a competitor, but neither did they want to match what the competitors were offering. Garlin accused Leno of undermining O'Brien's incipient Tonight Show by taking the 10 pm slot. Garlin stated that while Leno had been nice to him over the years, the host displayed "no character" by taking the timeslot back. Garlin vowed never to appear on Leno's Tonight Show thereafter. [153]

In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, Nathan Rabin wrote that Leno had "raced past the reviled likes of Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia on the list of popular stand-ups hated by comedians and comedy writers." [136] Bill Zehme, the co-author of Leno's autobiography Leading with My Chin, told the Los Angeles Times, "The thing Leno should do is walk, period. He's got everything to lose in terms of public popularity by going back. People will look at him differently. He'll be viewed as the bad guy." [154] Joe Queenan from The Wall Street Journal went further in his criticism of Leno, jokingly comparing the controversy to Adolf Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia. [155]

David Letterman was one of the more adamant critics of NBC and Leno's handling of the conflict. He noted that, "We went through our own version of this, 17, 18 years ago", [156] and he ridiculed Leno's recent "state of the network address", wherein Leno pleaded for viewers not to "blame Conan", with Letterman noting, "In the thousands and thousands of words that have been printed about this mess, who has blamed Conan?" [157] [158] [159]

Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show reflected on the controversy, saying, "At least we don't have to deal with Jeff Zucker. That guy's like the Cheney of television, shooting shows in the face." [160] Stewart also shouted "Team Conan" as his "Moment of Zen" at the end of the January 21 episode of The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report asked guest Morgan Freeman to read a list of "untrustworthy things", one of which paraphrased a statement made by Leno in 2004, "Conan: The 11:30 slot? Yours." [161]

Jimmy Kimmel, host of the ABC talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! donned a gray wig and fake chin to perform the entire January 12 show in character as Leno. With his bandleader Cleto Escobedo parodying Leno's bandleader Kevin Eubanks, Kimmel began his monologue with "It's good to be here on ABC. Hey, Cleto, you know what ABC stands for? Always Bump Conan." He also referenced the "People of Earth" letter, noting how O'Brien declined to participate in the "destruction" of The Tonight Show, commenting as Leno that "Fortunately, though, I will! I'll burn it down if I have to!" [162] Leno called Kimmel the next morning to discuss the bit, and at the end of the call, Leno suggested Kimmel come over and appear on his show. When his booking department called to confirm his appearance on a "10 at 10" segment (in which Leno asked 10 questions to a guest appearing remotely via satellite), Kimmel agreed immediately. [107] When he received the questions for his January 14 appearance—such as "What's your favorite snack junk food?"—he realized Leno intended to neutralize the scathing parody and paint the two as friends. [163]

During his appearance, however, Kimmel made it clear that he wanted to discuss the conflict with Conan and NBC, and tried to direct the conversation toward that topic. When asked about his favorite prank, he responded, "I think the best prank I ever pulled was, I told a guy once, 'Five years from now I'm going to give you my show.' And then when the five years came, I gave it to him and I took it back, almost instantly." [164] Later in the segment, when Leno asked, "Ever order anything off the TV?" Kimmel replied, "Like when NBC ordered your show off the TV?" [165]

Following similar remarks to more questions, Kimmel closed the segment with this comment: "Listen, Jay. Conan and I have children. All you have to take care of is cars! We have lives to lead here! You've got eight hundred million dollars! For God's sakes, leave our shows alone!" [164] Leno did not argue and accepted the bit as comedy, ascribing Kimmel's conduct as an attempt to score some publicity, but producer Vickers was furious. [166]

Kimmel discussed the appearance during an interview with Marc Maron for the latter's podcast in 2012. Kimmel stated that he felt O'Brien was not given a proper chance, but that he was also motivated by his own history with Leno. According to Kimmel, Leno had some years prior been in serious discussions with ABC about the possibility of jumping ship from NBC. During this period, Leno initiated a friendship with Kimmel, wanting to ensure that they would be on good terms if the move was made. (Under that scenario, Leno would have taken Kimmel's time slot and become his lead-in.) However, after Leno made the arrangement to remain at NBC, Kimmel related, "those conversations were gone." Concluding that Leno's relationship with him had been a pretext, Kimmel felt "worked over," reasoning that Leno was using the ABC discussions as a bargaining tactic to try to get his old job back. [167]

Neutrality of Jimmy Fallon Edit

The only late night host who remained neutral was Jimmy Fallon, calling O'Brien and Leno "two of my heroes and two of my friends". [168] He later joked that, "There's been three hosts of Late Night: David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and me. And if there's one thing I've learned from Dave and Conan, it's that hosting this show is a one-way ticket to not hosting The Tonight Show." Ironically, Jimmy Fallon was selected to replace the retiring Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show in February 2014. [169]

Defense of Leno and criticism of O'Brien Edit

The comedians who came out in defense of Leno were far fewer and tended to have a professional or personal relationship with the host. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Jerry Seinfeld rebuffed the idea that NBC deserved blame and chastised O'Brien for pointing fingers:

"What did the network do to him?" Seinfeld asked. "I don't think anyone's preventing people from watching Conan. Once they give you the cameras, it's on you. I can't blame NBC for having to move things around. I hope Conan stays, I think he's terrific. But there's no rules in show business, there's no [referees]." [170]

The irony of Seinfeld's stance was noted by at least one publication, as Seinfeld had itself weathered a rocky beginning thanks to the patience of NBC executive Rick Ludwin, the benefit of a strong lead-in (Cheers), and years to develop its audience as opposed to O'Brien's six months. [171]

Jim Norton, who was a frequent contributor to Leno's shows, touched on the controversy repeatedly in interviews and on The Opie & Anthony Show, calling the harsh criticism of Leno "amazing" and suggesting that Leno declining to walk away after stating otherwise was no worse than O'Brien "actually trying to force Jay out by telling the agents, 'If Conan doesn't get The Tonight Show, he's leaving the network.'" [172]

NBC executives served as Leno's chief defenders, with Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports, being particularly aggressive. Calling Leno's detractors "chicken-hearted and gutless," he summarized the late night situation as an "astounding failure" by O'Brien and further characterized O'Brien's and Letterman's barbed jokes about their rival as "professional jealousy." Addressing the common point about Conan's weak lead-in hurting his ability to build an audience in a different timeslot, Ebersol dismissed it as a "specious argument." [173]

In an interview with Marc Maron that summer, O'Brien's longtime sidekick Andy Richter noted the contradiction between Ebersol's comments and the actions of the network. The demonstrable impact of The Jay Leno Show on the ratings of local news across the country was the direct cause of the cancellation of The Jay Leno Show, and gave lie to Ebersol's implication that lead-ins are irrelevant. Leno's Tonight Show, in contrast, had always enjoyed healthy lead-ins courtesy of a strong NBC primetime line-up. [174] Furthermore, the network would have reportedly faced a US$150 million penalty in order to release Leno from his contract, making O'Brien the far less expensive host to get rid of. [175]

Leno himself was among O'Brien's harshest critics, calling O'Brien's numbers "destructive to the franchise" despite O'Brien's success in the advertiser-friendly demographics combined with his significantly smaller salary. [176] Moreover, Leno's assessment of O'Brien's performance less than three months prior had been significantly different: "Personally, I think Conan is doing fine. He's beating Dave in the demo, maybe not in the popular one right now because Dave has a lot of other things going that have people watching for whatever reason, so I think that's not really a fair thing. It's a little too early to tell." [177]

Negotiations Edit

Discussions neared completion regarding a financial settlement by January 14, and were expected to be in place following O'Brien's final week of shows—January 18–22—a concession O'Brien pushed to give his program a proper farewell. Movement on the settlement slowed when run by General Electric (GE) executives, then-owners of NBCUniversal. NBC had several requests, among those that he not bring Howard Stern on the show his final week (which the O'Brien camp found slightly comical), and that they see the show's final week of scripts (which O'Brien never sent). Talks for much of the rest of the week went nowhere, and a Saturday New York Post story ran claiming that O'Brien's staff felt "betrayed" by his actions, as they did not understand his refusal to accept the 12:05 timeslot in order to keep their jobs, and was driven by egocentric concerns. O'Brien was infuriated by the story, which he assumed to be a direct plant from NBC, as nearly all of his staff agreed that he should leave the network. He was personally appalled that the network challenged his character, as stressing severance for his employees was enormously important to him (he had paid them out of his own pocket during the writers' strike three years earlier). [178]

NBC added more requests, which the O'Brien camp refused as unreasonable, such as the right to pull any of his final shows if the network objected to the content (e.g., a joke about the conflict/NBC). [146] Jeffrey Immelt, GE chairman, questioned why they were paying so much for a performer destined to run to another network. [146] Negotiations continued into O'Brien's final week he could not confirm on-air it was indeed his final week of shows, which produced difficulty in booking the guests he desired for his final show. [179] On January 19, multiple media outlets reported that O'Brien and NBC were close to signing a deal between US$30 and US$40 million for the host to walk away from the network. [180] [181] [182] Following his January 20 episode, O'Brien remained at the studio until the early morning hours, alongside Ross and the legal counsel, trying to finalize the settlement. O'Brien wandered off, playing his guitar alone and stepping out on the deserted Universal lot at midnight, attempting to make sense of the situation. [179] O'Brien signed the agreement that night, and the next day, its terms were made public. [183]

In all, O'Brien received a US$45 million deal to leave NBC. [184] O'Brien received pay for the remaining two years of his contract (amounting to US$33 million), with additional payments to Jeff Ross, Andy Richter, and bandleader Max Weinberg. [185] The severance pay for his staff was above standard GE levels (amounting in all to US$12 million), which O'Brien had stressed. [186] O'Brien paid around 50 stagehands and various crew members at least six weeks severance pay out of his own pocket, as NBC gave those particular staffers nothing in the settlement. [187] The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said that they were "very happy" with how O'Brien treated his employees during the conflict. [187] The contract contained a clause prohibiting O'Brien from making negative remarks about NBC for a certain amount of time [186] [188] it did not, however, contain the previously rumored "mitigation clause", in which NBC would be able to keep some of the severance pay after O'Brien found a new network. [186] It stipulated that he could return to television on another network no earlier than September 1, 2010. [184] [186]

Final week Edit

The conflict only provided more comedy material for O'Brien's Tonight Show during its final episodes. Among other bits, O'Brien put the show up for sale on Craigslist ("Guaranteed to last for up to seven months designed for 11:35, but can easily be moved!"), and then himself looked back at clips from the show's seven-month tenure that were dubbed "Classic Tonight Show Moments" and designed a bit to seem as though he were spending absurd amounts of NBC's money, such as customizing a Bugatti Veyron, playing audio and video clips with expensive rebroadcast rights, and using a purported "rare ground sloth" to spray Beluga caviar on what was presented as an original Picasso. [189] Because the segments aired in days immediately following the 2010 Haiti earthquake while national fundraising efforts (including some spearheaded by NBC) were ongoing, O'Brien received criticism for wasting resources. In response to the outcry over the expense of these sketches, O'Brien explained that the segments were indeed jokes, and many of the props were either counterfeits or borrowed in exchange for promotional consideration. [190]

The guest roster for O'Brien's final show on January 22—Tom Hanks, Steve Carell and original first guest Will Ferrell—was regarded by O'Brien as a "dream lineup" in addition, Neil Young performed his song "Long May You Run" and, as the show closed, was joined by Beck, Ferrell (dressed as Ronnie Van Zant), Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, O'Brien, Viveca Paulin, and The Tonight Show Band to perform the Lynyrd Skynyrd song "Free Bird". [191]

In his final moments on air, O'Brien stated that between Saturday Night Live, Late Night and The Tonight Show, he had worked for NBC for over 20 years, and he was "enormously proud of the work they have done together". He then thanked NBC for the first time since announcing his intention to quit. O'Brien said his decision to quit as host was "the hardest thing [he] ever had to do". [192] He praised and gave thanks to his staff, and thanked his fans (specifically those who participated in the Los Angeles rally during periods of heavy rain) for their overwhelming support. He ended the show by offering heartfelt advice to his viewers in his farewell address, stating:

All I ask of you is one thing . I ask this particularly of the young people who watch. Please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen.

Following the taping, the studio set was used one final time for a party thrown by staff. O'Brien's monologue spot from the floor was framed and signed by his staff as a gift, which touched O'Brien. [193] 10.3 million people watched the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, a notably high number for live late-night viewing and on a Friday night. The final episode scored a 7.0 household rating and a 4.4 rating in the 18–49 demo. [194] Not only did O'Brien's final show beat all late night competition, it outscored all prime time shows in the 18–49 demo from that night and the night before. [195] The network confirmed that Leno would officially resume as host of The Tonight Show on March 1, [196] and reruns from O'Brien's time as host aired until NBC began airing the Olympics on February 15. [197]

Leno's first Tonight Show back pulled in 6.6 million viewers, and his margin over Letterman again held for much of the rest of his run until his second Tonight Show departure in 2014. [198] While his numbers were down from his original incarnation of The Tonight Show, "It's as if a collective erase button was pushed", said Robert Thompson, professor of television at Syracuse University, "with the usual suspects back in their usual locations—except Conan is gone." [198]

According to NBC, if O'Brien continued hosting, it would have been the first year that The Tonight Show would have actually lost money, which Leno later contended was damaging to the franchise. [199] This assertion was scorned by skeptical critics, as it was calculated that Conan's Tonight Show would have made significantly more money in advertising than Leno's show did, due to his more favorable youth demographic numbers. Also Leno's larger staff, higher production costs, and higher salary would have by all accounts made Leno's Tonight Show more costly. [200] O'Brien and Ross also challenged this notion, concluding that to arrive at such a calculation, NBC must have included the cost of building the new studio and offices, as well as startup costs. [201] At NBC, most young employees tended to support O'Brien and joined the "I'm with Coco" Facebook groups NBC later asked all employees to rescind their membership in any O'Brien-supporting pages. [202] Similar action came when any effort to mention O'Brien's tenure was whitewashed from company history. [203]

Gaspin was happy with the settlement, but nevertheless agreed with one of O'Brien's points—that his show had no time to grow: "Could it have grown? Absolutely . We just couldn't give him the time." [201] Zucker, in an interview with Charlie Rose, defended his strategy but noted that both shows [ clarification needed ] were a mistake. [94] Zucker, who had known O'Brien since their days at Harvard and was very close friends with Ross, was very disappointed with how events played out, although he viewed it as necessary. [204] Leno, in an attempt to repair his public perception, granted an interview to Oprah Winfrey on January 25 he stripped himself of any blame for O'Brien's disappointment, noting that it was all about ratings, and also confirmed that he told a "white lie" in 2004 when he guaranteed The Tonight Show to O'Brien. [205] In a reference to a 2007 Super Bowl commercial starring Letterman and Winfrey (the two had feuded for years prior), Letterman, Leno, and Winfrey all appeared in a spot airing during Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010. [206] The ad—Letterman's idea—was the first time the late-night hosts had met since their own 1992 debacle. In it, Letterman and Leno sit on opposite sides of Winfrey watching the game Letterman deems it "the worst Super Bowl party ever" due to Leno's inclusion, and Winfrey tells him to "be nice", resulting in Leno quipping, "Oh, he's just saying that 'cause I'm here." [207] The clip stirred a frenzy, with commentators speculating that Leno had been "green-screened" into the picture. [208]

Letterman had initially wanted O'Brien to be in the promo as well, but O'Brien firmly rejected it, saying "No fucking way I'm doing that. It's not a joke to me—it's real." [208] O'Brien was sure his agreement prohibited television appearances for several months, but gathered NBC would be only too happy to allow him a one-time reprieve for the ad, as it was to improve Leno's image. [209] O'Brien, by this point, was planning a live tour with his staff that would take him on the road, and had also created a Twitter account. [210] After about one hour online, O'Brien's number of Twitter followers had rocketed past the 30,000 followers of the official Jay Leno account, [211] [212] and he held over 300,000 followers in under 24 hours [213] he surpassed the one million mark in May 2010. [214] Many speculated that O'Brien would sign a deal with Fox for a late-night program Comedy Central and HBO had also expressed interest in O'Brien. [215] [216] Fox's deal moved slowly and they eventually withdrew their offer due to station resistance, the daunting financial investment, and opposition from Roger Ailes. [217] [218]

O'Brien eventually signed with cable network TBS in April, with his next program, Conan, set to debut in November. [219] The move prompted industry surprise online blog Vulture commented that "Conan will now be featured as a lead-in for Lopez Tonight on TBS. It's not just basic cable, it's unsexy basic cable." [218] His nationwide comedy tour, The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour, began on April 12 and ran through June 14. A documentary shot during that time, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, as well as a May 60 Minutes interview, prompted some observers to deem him "whiny". [220] Vanity Fair 's James Wolcott said O'Brien "came off as a peevish straw of nervous energy . a self-involved chatterbox." [220]

As NBC could have potentially retained intellectual property originating from O'Brien's entire 17-year tenure with the network, [221] [222] O'Brien simply changed names on the tour (turning his character, the Masturbating Bear, into the "Self-Pleasuring Panda"). [223] The Washington Post later reported that retaining the characters was "not a key issue for O'Brien". [224]

Conan premiered in November 2010 to 4 million viewers, leading all late-night talk shows and more than tripling the audience of its direct competition, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. [225] However, ratings quickly fell by the following fall, The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that "TBS's pricey Conan O'Brien experiment is flopping." [226] In an effort to bolster ratings, TBS secured the cable syndication rights to The Big Bang Theory at a reported US$4 million per episode to serve as a lead-in to Conan three nights a week. [227] Steve Koonin of Turner Entertainment stated in 2012 that "Conan is our Mount Rushmore. We've made him the centerpiece of TBS. If success were only about ratings, we'd just run Westerns all the time." [220] The Hollywood Reporter credited it with forging "a digital empire, his company's own shows and a young audience TBS hopes will follow him anywhere." TBS announced in May 2017 they renewed the show through 2022. [228] Despite the show renewal, it was announced in November 2020 that the show will end in June 2021, with O'Brien producing a weekly variety show for HBO Max. [229]

Many of the executives involved in the botched transition subsequently left NBC. Zucker was fired by Comcast Executive Vice President Steve Burke, but stressed that Comcast's insistence to install their own team was the reason. [230] Marc Graboff opted to leave his contract early that November, as did Gaspin. While O'Brien admitted in 2012 that he occasionally still felt resentment over the events that transpired, he noted that "I had an amazing partnership with NBC and was very disappointed at the outcome, but I didn't feel entitled to Late Night or Tonight or to the TBS show. If you're in this business and haven't experienced profound pain at some point, you're not doing it right. I strongly believe that." He has had no contact with Leno, noting "the odds are we will both leave this Earth without speaking to each other, which is fine. There's really nothing to say. We both know the deal. He knows I know. I'd rather just forget." [220]

In a 2010 issue of TV Guide, the timeslot conflict ranked #1 on a list of TV's biggest "blunders". [231]

A wax likeness of O'Brien that had been commissioned by NBC/Universal from Madame Tussauds and unveiled during a December 2009 episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien was quietly returned to the Madame Tussauds museum on Hollywood Boulevard. The figure had originally been intended to permanently reside in the "NBC Universal Experience" theme park attraction. [232] A remote segment produced a few months into O'Brien's TBS show saw the host humorously reuniting with the wax statue. [233]

On October 5, 2011, O'Brien returned to 30 Rockefeller Plaza for a surprise, scripted appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to ceremonially retrieve the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog puppet from the studio after NBC had finally granted him the rights to use the character on TBS's Conan. During the two-and-a-half minute bit, O'Brien and Fallon joked about the controversy when Fallon said, "You were [host of Late Night] for sixteen years. Then what happened?" to which O'Brien laughed and said, "Don't you worry about that. You're a young guy." [234]

When interviewed by Marc Maron in 2011, O'Brien remarked, "I'm trying to avoid that thing where you get a story in your head that's very clean. I think there are too many people that come up with a very simple story where they're the hero, and they don't learn anything." [235]

During his 2012 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, O'Brien made it clear that he held no animosity toward NBC, pointing out that the individual executives he clashed with had departed the network shortly after he did due to a regime change. [236] Indeed, O'Brien would occasionally show clips from his NBC shows on his TBS program with NBC's permission, and the network also allowed the character of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to appear on the TBS show as well, with Triumph's performer Robert Smigel explaining that NBC only stands to gain by allowing him to give their property exposure. [237]

In an interview on Piers Morgan Live, also in 2012, O'Brien acknowledged that in retrospect the plan to engineer a transition for The Tonight Show five years in advance was "absurd," though he noted that he never anticipated Leno's ratings would fall in that interim, as the press had sometimes intimated, and he pointed out that all previous Tonight Show hosts had departed when they were on top in the ratings. He further remarked that he was happier in his current situation at TBS where he feels "liberated" and can do the material he desired without the baggage of upholding a legacy. [238]

In 2013, O'Brien was the headline performer invited to give remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and The Tonight Show controversy was humorously alluded to throughout the evening. During his own speech, President Obama quipped, "I understand that when the Correspondents' Association was considering Conan for this gig, they were faced with that age-old dilemma: Do you offer it to him now, or wait for five years and then give it to Jimmy Fallon?" [239] O'Brien himself referenced the affair with a joke that complimented President Obama on job creation: "Since [Obama] was first elected, the number of popes has doubled, and the number of Tonight Show hosts has tripled." [240] The ceremony had also opened with a pre-recorded sketch that featured Kevin Spacey as his House of Cards character Frank Underwood, who at one point expresses sympathy toward O'Brien for "that backstabbing Leno." [241]

Later that year, O'Brien was chosen to host Carson on TCM, a series that re-aired classic interviews from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. [242]

In 2014, Leno was interviewed for a 60 Minutes episode that focused on the host's second and permanent departure from The Tonight Show desk. Leno expressed to Steve Kroft that he had been "blindsided" in 2004 when NBC executives asked him to relinquish The Tonight Show in five years' time, though he admitted that he had accepted the decision with no argument or inquiry. In spite of this and the public remarks Leno had made at the time blessing O'Brien's succession, both Leno and his wife Mavis characterized The Tonight Show as having been taken from the incumbent host, rather than being something that he had voluntarily surrendered. When Leno explained that he was more willing to step aside the second time due to the considerable talent of Fallon and because "talented people will only wait so long before they get other opportunities," Kroft pointed out that Leno had said very similar things about O'Brien years before. "Well, maybe I did, yeah," admitted Leno before joking, "Well, we'll see what happens." [243]

During a 2015 interview with Howard Stern, O'Brien explained that he prefers to avoid talking about the "craziness," stating that people in show business shouldn't complain, that "no one cares", and that he noticed addressing the topic even in joking response to an earnest question by a guest on his show invariably resulted in admonishments from the media to "let it go." He claimed that even in hindsight he does not regret doing five more years of Late Night instead of moving to FOX, nor does he regret his incarnation of The Tonight Show. [244]

Leno kept The Tonight Show number one for the rest of his run, until he handed the franchise to Fallon in February 2014. Fallon's credibility with younger viewers and presence online was why NBC instituted the change, which was announced only three years following O'Brien's departure. [245] During the show that aired the day of the announcement, O'Brien congratulated Fallon, stating, "Jimmy is the perfect guy to do it, and he's gonna do a fantastic job." [246] While alluding to (and joking about) the 2010 controversy many times over his last few weeks on the air, Leno did not directly acknowledge his nine-month absence from the franchise nor did he mention O'Brien when he delivered his thank-yous and goodbyes as he concluded his second tenure as host. During the February 6, 2014, episode of Conan, however, which aired the same night as Leno's final Tonight Show, O'Brien referenced Leno in his monologue by alluding to NBC's position as the American broadcaster of the 2014 Winter Olympics, saying:

NBC has the Olympics. It's a big deal. NBC will finally get to show somebody who is okay with passing the torch. (pause for laughter and applause) I allowed myself one, but it was a good one. [247]

Though NBC had made a considerable effort to scrub any references to O'Brien's brief tenure as The Tonight Show host both on-air and online, with one former blogger for NBC Sports noting a corporate policy banning any mention of O'Brien, [248] it was acknowledged by the network during the buildup to the 2014 transition from Leno to Fallon. A brief shot of O'Brien walking onto his Tonight set was displayed in an on-air promo chronicling the franchise's history, [249] and Fallon referenced the conflict on his first Tonight Show episode, when he opened the show by joking:

I'm Jimmy Fallon, and I'll be your host—for now. (pause for laughter) Of course, I wouldn't be here tonight if it weren't for the previous Tonight Show hosts, so I want to say thank you to Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno. [250]

Less than a month removed from hosting Tonight, Leno appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show on February 26, 2014, as a surprise guest to deliver the news that the revived program had been renewed by CBS Television Distribution for a second season. [251] This proved to be premature, however, as Hall's program was indeed canceled on May 30, 2014. [252]

Comedian Bill Maher paid tribute to Leno when he was inducted into the TV Academy Hall Of Fame, an honor bestowed upon the host in 2014 when he stepped down from The Tonight Show a second time. A longtime friend of Leno, Maher complained that Leno was "victimized" by the press during the NBC fiasco. [253]

In a 2015 interview Leno reiterated his stance that O'Brien's own performance led to his ouster from 11:35 and that he remained mystified by the suggestion that he should have refused the time slot when it was offered back to him, saying "Why? Because Conan and I were good friends? No. At that point. it's a business decision. I'm sure it could have been handled differently. But I think it was a matter of letting things take its course. If Conan's ratings would have been fine, it wouldn't have been an issue. It wouldn't have come up." [254] In 2017, Leno again absolved himself, instead emphasizing that he kept The Tonight Show number one after his return. He addressed the longstanding claim that his contract was the more expensive one to break with equivocation: "I mean, if I'm that smart, how did I lose the show in the first place?" [255]

When he took over Tonight, Fallon insisted that Leno is welcome to appear on the show anytime he wishes, saying "whenever he wants, he's got a stage." [256] Leno made his first appearance as a guest on November 7, 2014, [257] although he had previously appeared in a produced House of Cards parody on August 12, 2014, in which he is revealed as the mystery man who pushes Fallon (as Frank Underwood) onto the tracks in front of a speeding subway train. [258] Leno has subsequently appeared on Tonight several times in the years since. [ citation needed ]

On February 13, 2015, Robert Smigel appeared in character as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote The Jack and Triumph Show. During the interview, he joked about the conflict to a visibly nervous Fallon: "Listen, we love NBC. NBC. we kid, you know? NBC will always be the place where Jack and I got our start. And where they fucked Conan." [259]

On December 7, 2015, The Daily Show made reference to the controversy. When former host Jon Stewart made a guest appearance on the show, current host Trevor Noah jokingly remarked, "Are you here to take the show back? Oh, man, I heard about this in American TV. Are you taking the show back?". Stewart replied, quietly, "Trust me, a thousand times no".

Over time, as the controversy grew distant with time, formal acknowledgement of O'Brien's lengthy career at NBC became more common by the network. In 2017, mention was made of the host in NBC's 90th Anniversary Special, and a display for him among all Tonight Show hosts appears in the ride queue of the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon theme park attraction at Universal Studios Florida. A plaque on the O'Brien display reads: [ citation needed ]

In September 1993, Conan O'Brien made his television debut on Late Night with Conan O'Brien after working as a writer on such television comedy institutions as Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. O'Brien's brand of irreverent humor proved to be a hit with the late night audience, including memorable sketches like "If They Mated," "In the Year 2000," and "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog." In September 2004, on the 50th anniversary of The Tonight Show, NBC announced that O'Brien would take over hosting duties from Jay Leno in 2009. While his time as host proved to be short-lived, O'Brien went on to launch a new late night talk show, Conan, on TBS in November 2010. Conan O'Brien remains a true comedy innovator and, at almost 25 years on the air, has enjoyed one of the longest runs of any late night television host. [ citation needed ]

In conjunction with his 25th anniversary as a late-night host, it was announced that O'Brien, TBS and NBC had come to an arrangement that would allow the entirety of O'Brien's late night archive (with the exception of musical performances, which posed insurmountable licensing issues), totaling over four thousand episodes, to become available in January 2019 via a state-of-the-art website dubbed "Conan 25". The launch marks the first time O'Brien's NBC programs were made legally available since The Tonight Show conflict. [260]


President Slams Media But Conan Softballs Obama At Lame WH Correspondents Dinner

3RD UPDATE – FINAL: (See Conan and Obama videos here and here.) We warned you not to expect much from tonight’s White House Correspondents&rsquo Dinner. And true to form it failed to deliver. Bland to a fault Conan O&rsquoBrien didn’t lay a glove on celebrity-in-chief Barack Obama. (Bring back Seth Meyers…) But the President got an easy laugh with a showbiz joke that couldn’t have made Comcast too happy. (He noted that, of 22 recent basketball shots, he had 2 hits and 20 misses. “The executives at NBC asked, ‘What’s your secret?'” POTUS said.) O’Brien’s best line of the night was comparing the relationship between Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner to a blind date between Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow. (“I n theory they understand each other’s positions. But deep down you know nothing’s ever going to happen.”) Obama got in the nastiest media dig. Noting that CNN has “taken some knocks” – because of errors during reporting on the Boston Marathon bombings – he said, “Fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story – just in case one of them happens to be accurate.” Obama even stabbed his liberal media cronies. He said saying seeing David Axelrod going to work for MSNBC was “a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod”.

Steven Spielberg – whom Obama called “my wonderful friend” – played a pivotal role in a video claiming the director’s next film is about Obama and will star Daniel Day-Lewis. (Obama pretended to be DDL playing himself. “The cosmetics were challenging.”) Otherwise, POTUS was flat. And, at times unabashedly arrogant. Like when he warned that, if the media are “only focused on profits or ratings or polls, then we’re contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now.” He also made this media comparison: “My job is to be president. Your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.” He did receive a big laugh with this line: “These days I look in the mirror and I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be.” Swaggering to the podium accompanied by rap music, he began by self-congratulating himself. (“Rush Limbaugh warned you about this. Second term, baby!”) He constantly made showbiz references. A nod to Michael Douglas in The American President. (“An Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy.”) To History channel’s depiction of him as the devil. (“Of course, Fox News thought the comparison was not fair – to Satan.”) To Groucho Marx. (“That’s Groucho Marx. Not Karl.”) To Conan’s invitation to host the WHCD. (“It’s the age-old dilemma: do you offer it to him now? Or wait five years and give it to Jimmy Fallon?”)

For his part, O’Brien was too respectful, especially given that he was headlining for the second time. (He previously hosted in 1995 and underwhelmed.) For instance he said very little about the recession, except to point out that, when it came to job creation, “under Obama the number of Popes has doubled, and the number of Tonight Show hosts has tripled”. Conan even went so far as to bash the hotel more than Obama. O’Brien was fine with showbiz jokes like this: “The guys from Duck Dynasty are here. It can can only mean one thing: the guys from Storage Wars said no.” But anti-Republican jabs didn’t go over. (Explaining that the President only won reelection because “he must have run against Mitt Romney, the rich guy whose horse danced in the Olympics”.) is media jokes were better received. He noted that Jeff Zucker’s news network is watched only “by the people who clean the offices at CNN”. And that Piers Morgan is actually the “scheming footman from Downton Abbey“. An Ann Curry-Al Roker feces joke fell flat. Winding up the evening, Conan laid a big one when he tried to cast an alleged new Turner Broadcasting DC miniseries because “Hollywood can’t get enough of your world.” (VP Biden = Bob Barker, David Axelrod – Higgins from Magnum PI, Paul Ryan = Mr Bean, Chuck Schumer = Grandpa Munster, Janet Napolitano = Paul Giamatti, Rahm Emanuel = Stewie from Family Guy.)

The Washington Hilton ballroom was “hot as hell,” we’re told. Maybe because red-hot Duck Dynasty reality star Willie Robertson was attending the dinner. (“Surprised I’m the only person wearin’ a bandana,” he tweeted.) Who cared that cantankerous Tom “Get Off My Lawn!” Brokaw is objecting to the presence of celebrities among the 2,700 guests at this annual glitter and power schmoozefest. George Clooney, Ari Emanuel and Charlize Theron weren’t there like last year. But Obama bundlers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Harvey Weinstein were plus Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbra Streisand. Before O&rsquoBrien and the President spoke, a House Of Cards spoof video with Kevin Spacey (playing a ruthless U.S. Congressman) was shown. &ldquoConan is the best we can do,&rdquo he laments. &ldquoIt must be so hard to write jokes about a town that already is one.&rdquo

Mercifully, no Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian buzzed this year’s WHCD. But Motion Picture Of America Association chief Chris Dodd got schooled as he had to wait his turn for a photo opp with Bradley Cooper. Red Carpet arrivals included Gerard Butler, Claire Danes, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, Amy Poehler, Connie Britton, Tracy Morgan, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Josh Radnor, Tim Daly, Jessica Pare, Psy, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens, Kerry Washington, Kate Mara, Tony Goldwyn, Ty Burrell, Aasif Mandvi, John Oliver, Rebel Wilson who told CNN she received a personal letter inviting her to the dinner from First Lady Michelle Obama. Hard at times to separate the fake from reality. As Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes just tweeted: “Am about to be in the same room with both my fake President and my real President at the same time.” Missouri U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill tweeted plaintively: “Wondering if my husband will pay any attention to me on our anniversary since sitting w/ Olivia Munn and Nicole Kidman.” C-Span was snarking the snoozefest with #NerdProm. But not even Rahm Emanuel worked the room like Tracy Morgan. 1600 Penn&rsquos Josh Gad and Veep&rsquos Julia Louis-Dreyfus hung out with House Of Cards star Spacey and show Executive Producer Beau Willimon. The producer tweeted a pic of himself with his boss Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos, a Bloomberg guest. NBC’s Go On might have had a rocky first season but star Matthew Perry still holds some sway in DC. People lined up to get their pic with him seated next to West Wing colleague Brad Whitford.


President Obama judged funnier that Conan O'Brien at White House dinner

Washington, Apr 30 (ANI): President Obama managed to crack up the crowd more than host Conan O'Brien at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. The reviews coming in from the audience praises the commander in chief over his comic timings. Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason Stackhouse on "True Blood," said Obama was funnier. "I'm a huge Conan fan, but President Obama was on top of his comedic timing tonight," he told Politico. Actress Rebel Wilson also picked Obama, adding that her favorite joke was "the one about him being a Muslim socialist." Activist Sandra Fluke said that she thought Obama was funnier than Conan too. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell said both were funny but that the president had a slight edge. She added that the president's jokes landed right on target. 'Friends' star Matthew Perry said they both did great but Obama did "the best stand-up routine that I've ever seen anybody do." (ANI)

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For most of last year, India did virtually no genome sequencing, Dr Gagandeep Kang, one of India’s leading virologists, told me. While other countries submitted thousands of sequences to databases such as Gisaid for scientists across the world to study, India submitted only a few hundred. This was partly due to a lack of funding. It was also possibly the result of a lack of interest last year, India’s Covid curve appeared to be falling. At the end of 2020, the Indian government announced it was setting up the Indian Sars-CoV2 Genomics Consortium (Insacog) to increase genomic sequencing through a network of 10 laboratories. Its aim was to sequence 5% of all new detected cases. By Tuesday, India had submitted a little under 13,000 sequences – 0.05% of its total reported cases. Despite reporting about 400,000 new confirmed cases every day through the first half of May, India collected and submitted just 280 sequences over the last 30 days. Again, it’s worth putting these numbers in perspective: according to Gisaid data, India has submitted 2,247 sequences of the variant first identified there in October 2020 the UK, where cases of the B.1.617 variant were first detected in February 2021, has submitted 3,706 to date. Epidemiologists across India have suggested the variant is driving the country’s virulent Covid curve. This is also supported by data from Gisaid, which shows this variant has become dominant in badly hit states such as Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The World Health Organization has classified the strain as a “variant of concern” because of its potentially increased transmissibility. But the question of whether this variant is linked to more severe cases of Covid-19 is more complicated. Experiments on hamsters suggest that infections with this variant result in a greater loss of body weight, higher viral load in people’s lungs and pronounced lung lesions. The real-world evidence from India is harder to parse, in part because the sheer number of infections has overwhelmed India’s health systems, leading to countless deaths from a lack of simple life-saving measures, including oxygen supply. In the western Indian city of Pune during the early days of the second wave, when there weren’t shortages of beds and oxygen, there was no apparent increase in the death rate, the leading Indian immunologist Vineeta Bal told me. The question of whether this variant leads to more severe cases of Covid-19 is also closely related to vaccines. Over the last few weeks, at least three Indian states and two cities, including Pune, have shown signs of a vaccine effect – a decline in infections and deaths among elderly people, 40% of whom have now been vaccinated. Although some scientists and the WHO have suggested that antibodies acquired either from vaccines or from past infections might have reduced success in neutralising the new variant, the current consensus appears to be that the two vaccines being administered in India – the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Bharat Biotech/Indian Council for Medical Research’s Covaxin – remain largely effective against the new variant as well. This new variant played a significant role in India’s overwhelming second wave. But the suffering was also caused by India’s costly mistakes. Religious and political mass gatherings such as a month-long election campaign and the Kumbh Mela festival went ahead. Such large gatherings resulted in increased social mixing and reduced adherence to distancing measures. The delays in genomic sequencing were potentially catastrophic, and not just for India. Meanwhile the country’s vaccination drive, which already seems to be having a positive effect on the number of Covid cases, has been impeded by a combination of shortages stemming from insufficient planning, and hesitancy stemming from poor communication. There are already signs this wave could be peaking in India. To prepare for the next public health crisis, the country must learn the lessons from its second wave. In particular, the government must stop hiding behind a veil of nationalism. On Tuesday, one of India’s most respected virologists, Shahid Jameel, resigned from his position as the chair of the scientific advisory group of the Insacog. Just days earlier, Jameel had written in the New York Times about the “stubborn resistance to evidence-based policymaking” that Indian scientists were facing, warning that “decision-making based on data is yet another casualty, as the pandemic in India has spun out of control”. In place of data, there has been patriotic bluster. In January, India’s health minister famously declared that India had contained the pandemic. By the middle of May he was being pilloried for responding to a sober Lancet editorial on India’s handling of the second wave by sharing a childishly written blog post complete with a cat photo. One would expect politicians and leaders to have shown empathy when the second wave hit. Some of this suffering could have been prevented: unfortunately, there’s little reason to be hopeful the government will reflect on this before the next wave hits. Rukmini S is a data journalist based in Chennai, India

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