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Conan's Last 'Late Night'

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  February 21, 2009 10:39 AM

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Last night, Conan O’Brien finished his 16-year “Late Night” run with an intimate, heartfelt farewell. Alone at his desk, choking up with emotion a few times, he spent the entire final segment of his 12:35 show (see above) heaping thanks on the individuals who’ve helped him to succeed. It was a gracious, classy parting glance, an irony-free goodbye-for-now.

O’Brien, who’ll move to LA and take over “The Tonight Show” on June 1, also promised that he won’t “grow up” after the shift. “That’s just not going to happen,” he said to a standing ovation, addressing fears that he‘d change to cultivate Jay Leno’s more mainstream 11:35 audience. “This is who I am, for better or worse.” O’Brien’s final “Late Night” words: “Please come hang with me at the next gig. … We‘re gonna really knock it out of the park.”


Among the many thank-yous, which he extended to his writing staff, his family, and the “warmth and kindness” of New Yorkers, O’Brien paid special tribute to Lorne Michaels. Michaels “took one of the greatest and most ridiculous chances in the history of the medium,” O’Brien noted, by replacing David Letterman with “a completely unknown writer with no television experience and bad skin” in 1993. “Lorne Michaels single-handedly made my career in television,” he said.

O’Brien also sang the praises of Letterman, who “invented this late night show” and is “one of the most brilliant broadcasters certainly of the last century and this century and for all of time.” Letterman, of course, will be O’Brien’s primary competitor at “The Tonight Show,” which made the homage even more powerful. O’Brien noted that “living in his shadow has been a burden and an inspiration for me for years.”

O’Brien expressed fond but more measured appreciation for Leno, who’ll move his act to a nightly 10 p.m. slot on NBC later this year. “I owe that man a great deal,” O’Brien said. “I’m thrilled that we get to be friends for all of our time in television and that he will continue to be my lead-in.”

Guests for the last episode included mascot Abe Vigoda, whom O’Brien released from a cage back into the wild, and Will Ferrell, who stripped out of his George W. Bush suit to reprise his dancing leprechaun moves. John Mayer appeared in a clip to sing “LA’s gonna eat you alive,” and longtime O’Brien show friends the White Stripes were in the studio to strum a sad duet on “We’re Going to Be Friends.”

Much of the last “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” -- it was, the host told us, the 2,725th episode -- was spent looking back over greatest hits. With former sidekick Andy Richter, O’Brien screened clips including his kiss with Rebecca Romijn, the gun-toting Ginger the dog, and Richter’s naked visit to “Today.” Along with O’Brien’s favorite piece, a segment in which he visits Long Island baseball players who abide by 1864 game rules, the night’s medley of clips was a satisfying representation of O’Brien’s absurdist humor and his charm. They were a persuasive invitation to follow O’Brien to an earlier hour.

Did you watch? What did you think?

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41 comments so far...
  1. I've been a fan of Conan since freshman year of high school, now a grad school student. I got tickets to one of his last shows. It was very emotional to watch his last "Late Night", and I stood up and gave him a standing O in front of my TV, yes I did. I loved how the show went the 5 extra minutes and ended at 1:45am, letting Conan get all this thank yous in. I'm real glad that he's not gonna "grow up" because that's who he really is, an adolescent goof ball! It's sad to see him leave New York, but who cares, now I can get an hour more sleep every night. Good luck in LA Cone-Bone!

    Posted by Mark February 21, 09 11:33 AM
  1. NBC has made a huge mistake.....I won't be watching Conan. I'll probably move over to Comedy Central after Jay is gone at 11:35.

    Posted by Ringleader1 February 21, 09 11:34 AM
  1. I wish I watched it now! I've always been a big fan of "Conesy and the Cone Zone" along with Max Weinberg, Andy Richter back in the day, Triumph, and everyone else who made the show into a joy to watch. Good luck in LA Conan!

    Posted by DI$CO February 21, 09 11:38 AM
  1. He didn't make mention who's going with him out to LA did they? It was a great show last night. I would hope that Max goes with him, but we'll see. I just hope that Conan doesn't get to douche-y like Jay and just make the show unfunny which is what Jay is.

    Posted by bobby February 21, 09 11:55 AM
  1. The contstant hand smacking on the desk and the over the top statements ("Greatest team in television history") made this hard to watch. Not very poigant.

    Posted by Brian F. February 21, 09 12:11 PM
  1. im 38 years old and gave been watching letterman, leno and conan since i was in middle school. leno is an unfunny kiss ass who isnt smart or sincere. i dont even think he actually listens to his guests talk...he just looks for opportunities to make a ridiculous joke. letterman was funny back at 12:30 but ever since he moved to 11:30 he turned mainstream and boring (albeit still better than leno).
    conan is smart and silly but will his humor work at 11:30? i doubt it...he'll have to change or leave...i say he changes. his current audience is high school and college kids and 20 somethings that dont have real jobs...whereas jays audience is middle and old aged upper middle class people who will not find conans quirky sense of humor funny. people who appreciate conan watch family guy...people who watch appreciate conan watch family guy and think its the funniest show on tv...people who watch jay dont know what family guy is!!

    Posted by mike February 21, 09 12:41 PM
  1. I thought it was very heart felt and honest. I have been a fan of Conan since the begining. I love the sense of humor on the show with Conan's quick mind. I will be watching Conan. Jay Leno was okay but Conan has much better humor. Although it's tough to line up against Letterman.

    Posted by Chris February 21, 09 12:43 PM
  1. We will continue with our usual nightly viewing habits. After Jay, change the channel!

    Posted by Sabrina February 21, 09 12:46 PM
  1. I nearly teared-up watching this...what a great way to end it with Andy coming back...i'm still gettin chills thinking about this one...good luck Conan

    Posted by drew February 21, 09 12:46 PM
  1. As a lifelong night-owl and consequently a connoisseur of MANY hours of late night TV, I was almost incredulous when the incomparable David Letterman was replaced by a complete unknown named... are you kidding me... CONAN O'Brien!?!? I guiltily admit that I probably watched Conan off and on the first year almost waiting for the guy to fail. Sure enough, I felt, at first, this guy is horrible. He's awkward, weird looking and seems unsure of himself. It's just a matter of time before he's cancelled.

    After awhile, I rationalized my increase in watching his show on the fact that sidekick Andy was actually decent but Conan was still weak. A little more time passed and I was now also adding the Max Weinberg 7 as a "watchable" aspect of the show (I'm a big Springsteen fan).

    However, as time passed I found myself "acquiring" a taste for Conan's absurd, often over-the-top humor. I can't put my finger on when it happened but by the late 90's I was hooked. I actually had come to prefer (gasp) Conan not only over Jay Leno but over The Master, David Letterman. His humor seemed to speak a little more not only to my generation but too my taste in comedy. I love that it was seemingly SO stupid and weird but often (but not always) was deceptively smart.

    By this decade (whatever the heck it's called), Conan had become a TRUE star; mastering his ringmaster persona. His juxtaposition between a bizarre, pasty, awkward nerd who would within a minute whip sharply back and forth between his ironic but hilarious hot, 'sexy guy' persona (shaking his hips in time to Max's beat, cooing in his bizarre falsetto to "The Ladies.")

    Bottom line is that Conan completely won over a one time cynic like me and I think he could do the same at the 11:30 time slot for many who have not watched him much or at all. Would have Conan worked at the 11:30 time slot in the 80's or early 90's? No way.

    But, the country and it's sense of humor has changed a lot. And now, many of Conan's fans from the beginning are getting older, raising families, going to bed earlier, so I think he might do a lot better than many of the skeptics think.

    I hope that is the case. Conan seems to be a thoughtful, class act (behind all the hilarious persona that he needs to be successful) and on top of that is another local boy done good on Late Night TV (Ed McMahon and Jay Leno).

    GOOD LUCK CONAN! I wish you the best and I will definitely be watching the NEW host of The Tonight Show.

    Posted by Charlie G. February 21, 09 12:57 PM
  1. "The contstant hand smacking on the desk and the over the top statements ("Greatest team in television history") made this hard to watch."

    Wow, I thought it was me...I couldn't stop cringing, he was so redundant and I like Conan, think he is clever, quick, witty and most times very original but he should have reviewed Johnny Carson's final evening on the Tonight Show for some guidance, inspiration and value. Hope that his 11:30 "gig" is successful for him.

    Posted by Kim February 21, 09 12:58 PM
  1. I don't know why Mr. Gilbert writes, "O’Brien expressed fond but more measured appreciation for Leno." I just watched the video clip, and his tribute to Leno was every bit as warm and generous and extravagant as for Letterman and all the others. Otherwise, I'm sorry I missed this final show, and I appreciate the review, which seems as kind, "gracious" and "classy" as the show itself.

    Posted by Janie123 February 21, 09 01:03 PM
  1. Late night TV isn't ready for two intelligent people on at 1130. Leno did quite a number by dumbing down the medium by a factor of 10. It's too bad he's not off TV period. I hope Conan does well.

    Posted by imstevek February 21, 09 01:17 PM
  1. I think his constant hand smacking on the desk was a physical distraction for him to keep from crying - it wasn't meant for emphasis. My guess is it was mostly involuntary. It was a bit distracting but I can't take away any points for it... he was truly, truly emotional about leaving the show and New York. It may not come through that way if you didn't get to see the whole episode last night, though.

    That 1864 baseball sketch had me rolling... it's a perfect example of his brilliant talent for observation. That sketch was a real-life Simpsons scene. What makes it so funny is that he's the only one that knows the script. All the other participants were just there - they'd have been there that day if he didn't show up. For one man to be able to make that scene so funny... you just can't be unimpressed.

    And if you didn't find it funny, well, so be it. Stick to the predictable, run-of-the-mill, double entendre humor you get with Jay or cookie-cutter sitcoms. The Tonight Show is going to change, yes... and for the better. Jay has been on Auto-Pilot for years now. I don't know how his 10 o'clock show is going to be any better.

    Keep it real, Coney! My only complaint is that we have to wait until June 1.

    Interested to see what Jimmy Fallon does with the Late Show, too. Only have to wait until March 1 for that.

    Keep cool, ma babies!

    Posted by Ed S February 21, 09 01:22 PM
  1. Jay's out of touch - time to go. Conan is an unlikely star, but he will pull it off...

    Posted by leelee February 21, 09 01:23 PM
  1. Never watched him on a regular basis, he acts weird

    Posted by bill February 21, 09 01:31 PM
  1. I think Conan will do great in LA. I will always continue to watch him. The Tonight Show needed him.

    Posted by Brian February 21, 09 01:58 PM
  1. Conan is an idiot.

    Posted by bnh February 21, 09 02:43 PM
  1. Conan is great hes different and thats what we need.If people would watch him he grows on you fast. Go Conan!!!! You Rock

    Posted by Brian M February 21, 09 03:01 PM
  1. Conan has consistently been one of the funniest people on television over the years. I think he'll do great in LA as long as he and his writing staff stay true to themselves.

    Posted by kdilkington February 21, 09 03:10 PM
  1. He's funny, but I wish he didn't talk about himself so much

    Posted by Norm February 21, 09 03:37 PM
  1. Last night Conan summed it up best when he mentioned that his parents told that "it's fine to be funny, but if you have no character, its not worth a damn." This is why Conan is so great at what he does. He makes the show is own every night. He plays off the audience and can make jokes out of nothing.

    Leno, on the other hand, just stands there and tells jokes--which anyone could do if you had a professional team of writers working for you.

    I was glad to hear that the band will be coming with him to LA and that he's not going to "grow up." I know he will be successful at 11:30---but I don't see Leno lasting long at the 10pm slot.

    Posted by stefan February 21, 09 03:52 PM
  1. i m really gonna miss that dern masturbatin bear! never larfed harder!

    Posted by dissembler February 21, 09 05:24 PM
  1. The show was devoted to his greatest hits, not the show's greatest hits. You'd have hardly known he ever had guests on the show.

    It wasn't a great last show a la Johnny Carson's last.

    And yes, he obviously reveres David Letterman and had less-than effusive praise towards Leno.

    Posted by Rebecca February 21, 09 06:26 PM
  1. Flat-out the most consistently funny television show in history. My favorite recurring characters/skits were "Andy's sister" played by the then-unknown Amy Poehler, and "Joe's Place." Let's hope he carries the same spirit of comedy to 11:35!

    Posted by Johnny February 21, 09 06:48 PM
  1. Hard to tell.

    Conan will review how Dave made the time shift
    he ain't no dummy

    not sure his team is sophisticated enough, nor are the "comedy team" around him.

    he"s gotta decide to either be a friend of writing or a friend of performing.

    Posted by gregg February 21, 09 07:41 PM
  1. I have spoken to many, many people of all ages over many years and I have yet to find a single person who finds Conan funny. I know he's a Boston fellow, but I predict he won't be on TV a year after he starts in LA.

    Posted by annewithane February 21, 09 08:14 PM
  1. I'm amazed at how critical a few people have been about Conan's display of emotion for the final episode. It had been 16 years... of course he's going to cry. To call a guy "sappy" for crying after ending a mammoth chapter of his life is absurd and heartless.... probably leno fans...

    Posted by loulou February 21, 09 08:33 PM
  1. I don't think it's fair to compare this finale to Carson's- he's switching shows, not going off the air entirely. And regardless of what he says, Conan will need to show some restraint to make it in this time slot. It's ok to be a kid, but he's gonna need an ass-o-meter to keep himself in line.

    I know he'll succeed- he's funny, brilliant and warmhearted. I just wish he wasn't leaving the east coast, because I think the audience makes a difference.

    Posted by crzn February 21, 09 08:38 PM
  1. I enjoyed the last show as I have many before it. 2725 shows. You could watch a show a night for 7 1/2 years and not see a rerun. It would be great if one of the networks picks up the old shows and runs them.

    I used to be a big Letterman fan before he moved to the 11:30 slot, but something changed when he did. I think the size of the studio makes a big difference. I got tired pretty quick of long punch lines due to the larger crowd participation in the show. Kind of like watching Gallagher, you have to wait a real long time for a laugh. Gone were the creative days (like when they did a whole show aboard a jet in flight). I stopped watching and started recording Conan every night.

    Conan created a very inventive show. Things like the State of the Show address and celebrating New Years Eve in the Central time zone and so many other gags were funny at multiple levels. I also very much enjoyed the improv cast on the show. Those guys and girls really made a lot of those skits hilarious. The Max Weinberg 7 is superior to any other band on TV and the musical acts he booked were always very good as well.

    So I hope he makes The Tonight Show quick and intelligent and retains his flair for the absurd. It's going to be a lot different mood doing a show in LA, so best of luck Conan!

    Posted by tippytop February 21, 09 09:01 PM
  1. Leno never was nor never will be O'Brien's "lead in". Leno was and will be PRIME TIME . And O'Brien will continue to be 'late night. With 10 PM news outdoing the 11 , cable news always available and Jay going to 10 PM, America will get news and REAL talent and then go to bed. Try not to wake them Conan. Never mind - you won't. Smug never won over talent. An example? Constant #2 in the ratings, DL.

    Posted by GR February 21, 09 09:19 PM
  1. 1) I watch Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert from 11-12 period. I won't watch Conan at 11:35. I DVR the show now at 12:35. I might DVR it at 11:35, we'll see.

    2) Moving to LA will really change the show. The show has a real NYC feel. We'll see how long that lasts in LA. I suspect many of the writers, etc. won't head to LA.

    Posted by John February 21, 09 09:48 PM
  1. I am in college right now and struggling with a heavy course load. But every weeknight I take time away to watch Conan O'Brien. He is always genuine, quirky, lovable, and outrageous. His monologue can be a little weak at times, but his self deprecation saves every bad joke. He's quick on his feet and thrives off of situations gone awry. Conan is truly the master of his genre. I teared up at the end of his last show when he was fighting back his emotions. I am looking forward to his new show in LA, and I hope it will be every bit as intimate and genuine.
    Thanks Conan for always making me laugh!

    Posted by atsoc February 22, 09 02:21 AM
  1. Well I sure hope the people who watch Leno are shipped off the a retirement home to watch reruns of Hee Haw ! At least that's a step up from the J-wreck
    I would hate to think that Conan would try to please a crowd that is used to the worst tv ever had to offer! cynical, unfunny, embarrassing, off color jokes. I can't count the times I tried to watch that hack and had to change the channel because I was so embarrassed for him.
    Conan is going to change everything and get rid of the crap and bring the funny back to The Tonight Show just like the inventiveness and artistry and innocence of Johhny ! He is a true artist for sure!

    Posted by go to hell J and take that puppet guitarist with you! February 22, 09 04:08 AM
  1. #31- What's wrong with you? Typical Leno fan who can't give a man a chance. Just because you don't identify with Conan's humor doesn't mean he doesn't have talent. Yes, go to sleep early because Conan will never try to wake your old ass.

    Posted by AE February 22, 09 04:47 AM
  1. Hey GR! (#31)
    In case you dont understand, Leno being Conan's "lead in" simply means his show is on BEFORE Conan. So, with that being said, Jay was and will continue to be Conan's 'lead in"

    Jay is hardly "real talent" either!

    Posted by sharkm February 22, 09 07:57 AM
  1. Conan puts on a fresh one of a kind show, his humor is not like anything out there which makes it clever and fun to watch! He climbed alot of ladders to succeed with his show at 1235 and will be able to do the same in his new time slot. Leno should just retire his jokes are just so old and tired,like him.

    Posted by Coll82 February 22, 09 10:17 AM
  1. CONAN IS AWESOME!!! All the detractors, just go to bed and leave the laughing to us.

    BTW, you thought Conan's Goodbye made you cringe???? Did any of you listen to the White Stripes?????!?? UGH - GAWD AWFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by Nate February 22, 09 10:56 AM
  1. To all you Jay bashers out there, I think The Tonight Show has never really reflected how talented Leno really is. I saw him do standup shortly before he took on the Tonight show and he is a very good comedian. He's clean and very quick. For me, the comedy always seems forced on the Tonight show and everything just comes off as trying too hard and it never quite makes me the laugh (except I think Headlines is funny).

    I think you can be a gifted comedian and still not quite make a show work, so I've got my fingers crossed for Conan. It's going to be a different kind of studio audience out there and I bet that will take some getting used to. My worst fear is that in LA, everybody is trying to be famous - including the audience.

    Posted by tippytop February 22, 09 05:22 PM
  1. I'm a Letterman fan, first and foremost, but I have come to adore Conan O'Brien....Conan finally got comfortable and carved out his own comedy groove (I thought it was smart that he ditched the sidekick; sorry to hear he's going back to that format)...I think Conan will do fine with the new show, though I do wonder why he'd want to leave NYC to go to California. I think Jimmy Fallon will tank. And Leno -- well, who cares?

    Posted by Katy March 1, 09 01:47 AM
  1. I'm a Letterman fan, first and foremost, but I have come to adore Conan O'Brien....Conan finally got comfortable and carved out his own comedy groove (I thought it was smart that he ditched the sidekick; sorry to hear he's going back to that format)...I think Conan will do fine with the new show, though I do wonder why he'd want to leave NYC to go to California. I think Jimmy Fallon will tank. And Leno -- well, who cares?

    Posted by Katy March 1, 09 01:47 AM

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