Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conan O'Brien: "I think they cured me of my addiction to The Tonight Show"

Conan fans should be sure to check out this lengthy article from, "I Was With Coco," written by former "Late Night"/"Tonight" writer Todd Levin.

Levin was a relatively recent recruit, joining the "Late Night" staff only a month before O'Brien wrapped up his 12:30 AM show. Anyone interested in learning what it's like to be a comedy writer will find the piece fascinating: Levin describes his "all-consuming fear of failing" at his new job, where writers had to produce under enormous pressure:

"An idea might be conceived at 9:30 a.m., pitched in the head writer's office at 10 a.m., debated and tweaked by the other writers, then approved for that day's show at 10:30 a.m. Between that time and a 1:30 p.m. rehearsal, the idea had to be cast, scored, shot, and edited. Graphics, props, video clips, and sound effects had to be requested, if needed. And, oh yes—there's the small matter of writing the script... To work in that kind of environment without ever falling behind or questioning your self-worth, you would have to be a sociopath."

During the highly publicized drama with NBC, O'Brien went from being a jovial, confident, hands-on boss -- the host was "constantly shooting video pieces on location, and he still found time to make an appearance at our writers' meetings almost every day, often to entertain us" -- to looking "drained... [he] slumped into the guest couch and fixed his gaze on the far wall as he addressed us, never really making eye contact. It was a sight that shook your faith a little, like seeing your dad on crutches."

Levin reveals that before making his decision, O'Brien polled his writers, "asking each of us what we'd do: take the 12:05 a.m. time slot the network was offering or get out. Nearly unanimously, we favored cutting and running. Everyone thought it was a terrible offer and that we were being set up to fail. Before he got up to leave, Conan confessed, 'I think they cured me of my addiction to "The Tonight Show."'"

The piece still ends on a relatively positive note, as Levin gets caught up in a rally held by O'Brien's fans.

Levin doesn't mention whether or not he'll be joining Conan at TBS this fall, but he does have a humor book coming out next month -- Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk -- which features a cover blurb from his ex-boss: "Possibly the most irresponsible book written on the subject of sexuality since The Berenstain Bears Host a Key Party."