Saturday, January 23, 2010

See you later, Coco

Conan Ends Tonight Show with Class, Lynyrd Skynyrd
By Matt Ufford Friday, January 22, 2010, 11:49 PM

O'Brien finished his tenure as host of "The Tonight Show" with a show that was star-studded but unconventional. He spared NBC from the ire he had directed at the network during the previous week as the network sought a solution to its late-night imbroglio. Instead, he celebrated his brief opportunity to sit behind the most famous desk in late-night television.

While longtime friends Tom Hanks (who coined O'Brien's "CoCo" nickname last spring) and Neil Young (who fittingly sang "Long May You Run") made noteworthy appearances, the most memorable statement was made by O'Brien himself near the end of the show, when he struggled to keep his composure while giving credit to NBC.

"There has been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can't say about NBC," he said. "To set the record straight, tonight I am allowed to say anything I want. And what I want to say is this: Between my time at 'Saturday Night Live,' 'The Late Night Show,' and my brief run here on 'The Tonight Show,' I have worked with NBC for over 20 years. Yes, we have our differences right now. And, yes, we're going to go our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible."

O'Brien kept his monologue cheerful but fatalistic. He opened with the statement, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have one hour to steal every single item in this studio." But the rest of his opening lacked the cheerful venom he'd aimed at NBC since the network announced its intention to put Jay Leno back at the 11:35 p.m. time slot.

Instead, the first commercial break was prefaced with a montage of highlights from Conan's "Tonight Show," set to Cheap Trick's "Surrender," the same song that accompanied his montage of moving his New York-based "Late Night" west to Los Angeles last May. As the song came to a close, an appropriate message appeared on a black screen: "TO BE CONTINUED."

He also stressed how difficult it was to leave the show before addressing his fans.

"The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational."

"To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: Please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- 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."

It was then that O'Brien introduced his final guest, Will Ferrell, who wore a lengthy blond wig and launched into Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic anthem "Free Bird." Backing up Ferrell was the Tonight Show Band with noteworthy guest musicians Beck, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and famous pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph. And behind Ferrell, minus his tie, was Conan O'Brien on a six-string: Relaxed, loose, ready for what's next.

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