The Telefile
Conan O’Brien Takes on <i>The Tonight Show</i>, Wrestles Rattlesnakes, Solves Crimes, Etc. Conan takes over the Tonight Show on Monday (with an unofficial torch-passing ceremony on tonight's episode), and everyone's very nervous about how it will go, if too much Jay Leno will ruin everything, and if and how much Conesy will have to dumb down his material to satisfy the earlier crowd. Everyone, that is, except Conan himself, who recently participated in a media call to pretty much calm everyone down. And to talk about Murder, She Wrote. You'll see.

How much, if anything, are you going to be bringing with you from your old show to The Tonight Show?
Conan O'Brien: You know, there are certain bits that we did on the show over the years which I would look at, and even as I would do them I used to think to myself, this bit could work at 11:30, this bit could work at eight o'clock at night.

So, there's certain things that we did, especially some things that we developed in the last couple years of the Late Night show that felt -- for example, when NBC merged with Telemundo I started saying I want to reach out to our Spanish-speaking audience. And so I started doing a soap opera that was completely in Spanish called "Nochas de Pasion con Conan O'Brien," and it was just a really fun, silly bit. And I remembered thinking this was very, you know, I could have probably as a child have sold this bit to Johnny Carson. It's just a fun sort of old school Tonight Show piece.

So that's a piece that I'd be anxious to try out on this show. And then there are things like "Year 2000," which is basically a good way to deliver jokes. So, there's a number of pieces like that. But one of the things I've been stressing with my writers since the beginning is we're moving from one playground to another playground for the first time in 16 years. And it would be a shame to just dust off the Late Night show and move it to 11:30. It doesn't feel right to do that. So I think we're really hoping to come up with new things as well.

I'd like to keep the best of the Late Night show -- a couple of pieces here and there that really work for us. And I see no reason why Triumph the Insult Comic Dog can't file reports for us, you know, and then I think this is really an opportunity to do something new. I think people would be disappointed if I didn't re-invent myself to some degree.

How are you dealing with the pressure to be number one?
CO: In my whole experience at Late Night I never once said I'm going to do X because that's going to be a huge rating. Do you know what I mean? I always did the thing that I thought would be funny, and then good ratings seemed to come from that.

I don't know how to do it the other way. Which is, I don't know how to say, 'what's going to really do well with women 35 to 49 is if I do a sewing segment.' You know? Or something like that. I think if you try and do it the other way you just lose yourself.

Who are your first week guests?
CO: We have Will Ferrell and Pearl Jam and Tom Hanks and Green Day and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sheryl Crow and Gwyneth Paltrow and John Mayer and Ryan Seacrest -- it's a fun week.

Is there pressure to appeal to middle America now?
CO: You know it's funny. I try not to put that in the forefront of my brain. People say a lot, 'you've got to appeal to middle America.' And I say well, you know, I think my best stuff that I've done over the years, and me at my best is just funny. I don't think there's anything hard to get, you know? There's nothing that's too -- at the best my show has always just been silly. And I think silly should work for all kinds of people. Do you know what I mean?

So, I don't put that in the front of my brain every night and think 'how do I appeal to middle America.' Because I do think audiences are smart. And they know when you're trying to pander to them. And I don't want to do that.

Do you think people will say, 'Okay I've watched at 10:00, I'm good'? What do you think will happen after Leno's show?
CO: You know, it's a good question. And nobody has the answer. I'll be completely honest with you. I could try and BS you and say, 'Nope, I can tell you exactly what's going to happen. It's all going to be fine.' I don't know.

This move is kind of unprecedented in television. But what I keep going back to is that at the end of the day nothing changed for me. Which is I'm hosting it. It's June 1, 2009. I'm hosting The Tonight Show. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing or what time they're at. I have to do my thing, and do it to the best of my ability, and hope that good things come from that.

I do know that broadcast television, network TV is -- the whole thing's changing so quickly. I mean you and I have both seen it change in the last couple years before this move. So, you know, I don't know where we're going to be three years from now. The Tonight Show might be a pill that you take, you know, that you can get at the drug store. And people swallow it with a vodka tonic and say 'Good monologue, Conan' and then go to sleep. So I have no idea where we're going. But it should be kind of exciting to see what happens.

When NBC announced the Leno move, did you at all give thought to keeping your show in New York after that?
CO: You know, the ship had sailed by that point. So, you know, it's December and at that point, they're putting the finishing touches on this building here in Los Angeles. And I've already bought a house. And so that ship had really sailed.

Between Jay, you and everybody else, do you think people will become over saturated with late night talk?
CO: I think at some point my show is going to have to morph into a detective show. I think four weeks in Andy Richter and I will be solving crimes. It's going to be a Murder, She Wrote with a slightly younger demo.

How are you adjusting to the move from New York to California?
CO: I miss the street culture. I miss walking down the street. When you walk down the street in Los Angeles, people think that you're off your meds. And people in passing cars think that you've lost your mind. Like why is he walking on the sidewalk?

There's a culture here that if you're not in your car something's very wrong. If you're not in your car, you better be walking right into a restaurant or a club. And if you're not, it means that something's gone wrong with the circuitry of your mind, and the police should probably be notified. You know? That takes a little getting used to. Whereas in Manhattan you bump into life and the world wherever you go.

And they have rattlesnakes out here. I like to wrestle rattlesnakes. I love to walk the trails, because they come out at the hottest part of the day. So I like to get out in the hottest part of the day, walk the trails, and when I see one I pounce on it and we wrestle.

Conan transition predictions? Leno hatred? Leave it below.




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