Monday, January 11, 2010

What Will Conan O'Brien Do?

You've probably heard that NBC announced yesterday they are canceling Jay Leno's 10 PM show as of mid-February. Jay will return to his 11:35 PM time slot. What will Conan O'Brien do? Move to Fox? Stay at NBC and do his show at 12:05 AM, as he has reportedly been offered? Time will tell, I suppose.

I've never thought he was very funny as a talk show host, and almost never watched his show. But the speech he delivered a decade ago to the Harvard graduating class of 2000 was really excellent. It was funny, poignant and insightful. By far the best graduation speech I've ever heard. In part 2 (of 2) embedded below, Conan describes his winding road to talk show stardom.

It's tempting to dismiss his current 'dilemma' unsympathetically. What's the big deal? It's only a change of time slot. Maybe doing his show just a little later. And even if he leaves NBC, he's probably going to get paid tens of millions of dollars by them on the way out the door. But when you watch him describe his life to these graduates in this video embedded below, you get a very different sense. That it is probably a very big deal to him indeed. ("And then an insane, inexplicable opportunity came my way: a chance to audition for host of a new late night show. I took the opportunity very seriously. But at the time, I have to be honest, I had the relaxed confidence of someone who knew he had no real shot. So I couldn't fear losing a great job that I had never had, could never hope to have..... Success is a lot like a bright white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it. But then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way.")

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