Everybody loves Conan at Winter TV Press Tour
The Reporters Who Cover Television are deeply, madly in love with Conan O'Brien.
Not figuratively - literally. They would probably, if asked, agree to have his children. Especially the guys. A Q&A session with Conan on the set of his TBS late-night show during Winter TV Press Tour 2011, has the quality of an autograph signing session after a Miley Cyrus concert.
One reporter wonders when Conan thinks he became a sex symbol.
Conan has the good sense to pooh-pooh the idea. Nor has Coco gone all I Am God's Vessel on us, like Oprah has with her new cable network. But he can't stop talking about the "Journey of Discovery" he's been on, since NBC decided to move Jay Leno back to late night and shift Conan's ratings-hungry "Tonight Show" to midnight, which Conan rejected and walked from "Tonight" after just seven months on the job - or, as this crowd calls it, "NBC sacked Conan."
Conan insists he has an "Irish Catholic suspicion of praise and anything over the top" -- like getting turned into a "media story" and having tabloid reporters tail him to a Santa Barbara hotel where he and his family had gone to "chill" after he left "Tonight." Then there was that time, which Conan notes, he talked to the New York Times about, when he walked into a restaurant and "everybody in that restaurant applauded."
Conan insists he would be very "happy to move past this period of time" and "have people say did they like my show last night or not" rather than this media story.
And yet, Conan had a camera follow him at home and document him in the wake of the whole "Tonight" kerfuffle.
"A friend of mine shot documentary footage, really starting with this period and taking it through the tour and...you can see that I ...have all this energy...I really need to be in the harness - need to be working," he tells his all-press audience Wednesday morning.
Conan also insists that, since his new show, "Conan" debuted last November, his nightly audience shouts "Conan! Conan!" at the top of each show of their own choice, not at the prompting of the show.
"We can' seem to stop it, and it's like anything else - it's got to play itself out. Last year was a crazy journey of discovery," Conan says as the journalists take notes - and photos, and video with their cell phones.
"It has a Stalinist feeling about it. It's fun to be Mussolini at the top of the show for five minutes," Conan continues. "We certainly don't take it seriously and I don't encourage it. But ever since Tom Hanks started all the 'Coco' thing - you really should direct your questions at him," Conan simpers. He will drop a lot more names before the Q&A is over.
Like when he's asked if booking his TBS show is harder or in any way different than booking NBC's "Tonight" show, from which Jay Leno had been pulled in the spring of 2009 in order to give the iconic show hosting gig to Conan, who had hosted "Tonight's" lead-out program, "Late Night ," since 1993.
"I've been part of this community for 17 years and a lot of these people are friends of mine," Conan responds. "Whether it's Adam Sandler, or...Will Ferrell, or Tom Hanks, one way or another they've been coming to one of my shows.
"I've been on three shows now," Conan adds, just in case any member of the press needs reminding.
"[These A-list stars are] not consulting other shows to find out what the order is, or what they're supposed to do. Personal relationships played a role," he simpers.
Coincidentally (*cough* you betcha *cough*) TBS issued a news release less than 24 hours before this long-scheduled set visit, noting that while press reports have been noting that Jay - who resumed hosting "Tonight" when Conan took a powder -- has a narrow lead over "Conan" among viewers aged 18-49 who are of chief interest to advertisers, once you add in people who watch late night TV via DVR, Coco is king. Conan clocked 1.4 million people in that age bracket, and Leno logs 1.3 million. This may seem like hair splitting to you and me, but, TBS added, Coco's lead over Leno is much bigger among 18-34 year olds. And, of course, 18-34 year olds are like the Holy Grail of late night TV for advertisers.
"'Conan' receives a far bigger lift from time-shifted viewing than broadcast shows, which is a reflection of the young fan base that O'Brien attracts," TBS asserted late Tuesday, adding that the median age of the "Conan" audience is 33 years while Leno's median age is 56.
Seated in one of those tall director's chairs on his set on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, dressed in one of those studiously sloppy outfits designed to suggest "youth" - faded jeans, really-ugly zip-up sweater, and a hoodie, under a sort of distressed suit jacket -- the 47-year-old Conan says he has no idea why his audience skews younger than he. Conan thinks it might be because "I have no dignity" and "I'm not afraid to fall down, not afraid to jump off things... I'm not able to grow up."
The beard, he says when asked, was something he started growing the day after he quit "Tonight" because it gave him a feeling of "liberation." Put in that kind of situation, "you do something -- and I grew a beard."
One TV critic wants details of a report that David Letterman had actually telephoned Conan the other day.
"It was quick," Conan recalls. "We hadn't spoken for a long time. He just called to say 'I haven't checked in on you and wanted to make sure we were good.' I said, 'We've always been good.'...I said 'You didn't owe me a phone call, but I appreciate it'."
Another reporter baits Conan, asking him if he would want to sit down with Jay Leno.
"No, I don't think so," he responds seriously. "There is nothing to be figured out. We all know the story of what happened...I've got my kids and family, and a life to live, and I'm really happy here, and I don't think about it too much. And, I'm sure he's busy."
"What do you think of the beard?" a reporter asks The TV Column while taking a shuttle back to the parking lot. "I was against it at first, but now..."
Lisa de Moraes
| January 12, 2011; 4:24 PM ET
Categories: Winter TV Press Tour 2011
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