Conan O’Brien welcomed the Television Critics Association to the set of his new TBS show “Conan.” It’s the first time most of them had spoken to O’Brien since NBC, except for Bill Carter who wrote the books on the talk show wars of two generations. It may have been the only audience that did not begin the show by chanting, “Co-nan, Co-nan!” O’Brien joked that that got old “about three weeks ago.”
But seriously, O’Brien appreciates the love and doesn’t expect it to last forever. It won’t become his “Woof woof.” “We can’t even stop it,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s like anything else. It’s going to play itself out over time. The last year has been a crazy journey of discovery and this show will be the same I think. So we’re going to find out as we go. I think we’re playing it out and like I say, it’s an organic process. So I think this show could become a game show in a year. Who knows? I have no idea. I’m as interested as anybody else to find out what’s going to happen.”
The chanting is only one component of the audience that has reinvigorated O’Brien’s hosting abilities. He feels working off of the audience’s energy has brought out his best. “I mean last night’s crowd, it’s a Tuesday in January and they were unbelievable. It feels like it’s got a little bit of a rock n’ roll energy and people have made things and some of them are in costumes. Sometimes it looks like ‘Let’s Make a Deal in here.’ I didn’t design any of this. I don’t know where it’s going but all of us, everybody in this room is facing the complete transformation of our business and you can resist it and hate it and fight it or you can go with it. I’m saying let’s go with it. I go into the crowd more and I do monologues I’ll see people and I’ll engage with them and I’ll go up into the seats sometimes and bring them into it. Last night I’m playing with some guy in the crowd and we’re just seeing where this goes. If it feels good, we do it.”
It works in the writer’s room too. So many people followed O’Brien from NBC that it’s just a love fest on and off stage now. “What happens is a lot of our people came over from the last gig, really a shockingly high number of people were able to stick with us and rode out this last year and I felt just put together this show. There’s a feeling here with everybody. The crew, the staff, a lot of people in their early 20s who are working on the show, we’ve all been through something in the last year so there’s sort of a spirit. There’s a little pirate ship feeling to this show which I love. Everybody has it because we all went through it. None of us knew what was going to happen, were we going to get other jobs, how are we going to make it through this thing? We stuck together and we did. That creates a strong dynamic here at the show that I think is coming through on television.”
Even David Letterman expressed his feelings for O’Brien in a phone call over the holidays. “He wanted to know what I was wearing,” O’Brien joked. “It was just a quick call. We hadn’t spoken for a long time and he just called to basically say, ‘I haven’t checked in on you, I just wanted to make sure that we were good.’ I said, ‘We’ve always been good.’ I have a lot of respect for that guy. I said he didn’t owe me a phone call but I appreciate it and then we chatted about other silly things and that was it. So it was not a lengthy phone call. He’s not a blabbermouth but it was nice. It was just nice to get the call and I made it quite clear to him he didn’t owe me a call but I was happy to talk to him. So it was nice to get it but I wanted to reassure him that he didn’t owe me any call or anything like that.”
However, O’Brien thinks it is still unlikely he would ever have a sit down with Jay Leno. “I don’t think so. There’s nothing to be figured out. We all know the story and we all know what happened. I think it’s better, just life is short. I’ve got kids and a family. I’ve got life to live and I’m really happy here so I don’t think about it too much. And I’m sure he’s busy.”
“Conan” airs weeknights at 11 on TBS.