Saturday, January 23, 2010

An open letter to Mr. Conan O'Brien


I realize that there are much, much more important things going on right now that to mourn the end of a television show. That having been said, let us not forget that it is unhealthy to be maudlin and morose 24/7. Our species provides us numerous forms of escape from reality--music, painting, reading, movies, and, of course, television. Conan's version of the
Tonight Show was one form of escape for me.

I have never written a fan letter, and I am not normally the type of person to do so. I usually reserve my gushing for celebrities in private ways. Yet this whole late-night debacle has spurred something in me to put my thoughts down in a very public fashion. Hell, I even wrote two open letters to NBC recently condemning their treatment of Mr. O'Brien in the past two weeks (which you can read here and here).

I seriously doubt anyone from Conan's staff will read this, let alone Conan himself, but these are words from the heart. I'm not going to venture into screaming-teen girl fan club mode (a la the Jonas Brothers). I'm not going to turn this into another round of Leno- or NBC-bashing. I'm going to respect Conan's wishes and not be cynical, and maintain a positive attitude throughout this epistle.

Dear Conan,

I was never able to stay up late enough all that often to catch your Late Night show. When I did I usually fell asleep around 1 AM, and I would like to point out it was not because of you. I either had class or work the following day, and it is impossible for me to operate on four hours sleep or less. (Please observe that I rise at the oh-so-lovely hour of 5:30 AM).

I remember the exact spot where I was when I heard, on WCBS 880, that you would take over the Tonight Show in 2009. I was in my car, waiting for the light to change, and quizzical thoughts started running through my mind. First of all, I thought, "Gee, didn't Johnny Carson just retire?" And then I thought, "My God, 2009 is so far away."

Well, five years passed, and soon, the news media was full of publicity about your inheritance to the throne once graced by not just Johnny Carson, but by Steve Allen and Jack Paar. Now that you were on an hour earlier, I could now watch you on a regular basis. And then I learned about Hulu. So whenever I fell asleep at 9 PM, I took comfort in the fact that I could always see your string dance on Firefox when I woke up the next morning.

And then on the eighth day, God created DVR. I never, ever worried about ever having to miss a show again. In fact, Conan, you helped me get my mornings off to a great start. I watched your monologue and your first comedy bits as I got ready for work. I'd make my coffee, grab my cereal, and have a leisurely breakfast with you, Andy, Max, LaBamba, and your entire crew. I thank you for making the mornings more bearable. This means a lot to me, for I am not a morning person.

I love your interviewing style. You just seem like a person whom anyone can relate to. Interviews with you are more like conversations with good friends: relaxed, open, and honest. Guests feel comfortable around you. And best of all, you don't suck up to anyone; you're very genuine.

Last night, Neil Young was on your show, and thanked you personally for supporting new music. Conan, if it weren't for your show, I wouldn't have Diane Birch, Lady Antebellum, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, and Julian Casablancas on my iPod. I realize that some of these artists have been around for a while, but they were new to me. You see, during my commute, and while I was at work, I would listen to either NPR or WCBS 880 and be in serious adult mode. Now I balance my serious adult mode with some playful tunes to help get me through the day: I get my information, but find time to be whimsical.

You also helped remind me that it's okay to be playful. In my circle of friends and loved ones, I'm known as the "quirky" one. The actress. The one who tries to find humor in all situations. The one who often finds herself at the expense of everyone's jokes. Often, I feel like the odd one out because of this. I have friends who have law degrees, PhDs, and are very successful in their careers as of their mid-30s. Sometimes it's hard to be around such an intelligent group of people. You help me remember to be myself--that I can be an intelligent professional and still embrace my quirkiness and goofy sense of humor. One can be witty and goofy without having to sacrifice class, honor, dignity, and respect.

Throughout this whole debacle, you have shown class, honor, dignity, and respect. I loved your "People of Earth" manifesto--it balanced your unique sense of humor with the respect for the tradition that is one of television's longest-running programs. I am including excerpts from this letter for the sake of my readers:

"In the last few days, I've been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky...

"For 60 years, the “Tonight Show” has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the “Tonight Show” into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The “Tonight Show” at 12:05 simply isn’t the “Tonight Show.” Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the “Late Night” show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy...

"Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way."

Not only did you defend the Tonight Show tradition, you stood up for your Late Night successor, Jimmy Fallon. I thought that was one of the classiest parts of your letter; you were keeping an eye out for the new kid on the block, and that was very kind of you.

I have the last two weeks of your Tonight Show on my DVR, and I refuse to erase them. Once I figure out how to transfer them to DVD format (I need to back these recordings up somehow) I will. I will especially treasure, however, last night's episode. It was all very bittersweet. There was a lot of humor thrown in, with your montage of memorable clips from the past seven months (and there were many memorable clips in that montage), the exit interview with Steve Carell, and Tom Hanks walking out with two glasses of "scotch". (Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be cream soda).

But your final monologue, at the end of your show, was what really got me. I actually cried at this one (sorry about the audio quality):

Yes, you took some very sharp jabs at NBC during your last few shows, but you didn't forget that the Peacock was the network that got you your start. Yes, NBC put you through the wringer very, very publicly, and in a very, very nasty fashion, but you still were classy enough to remember that they helped you out in the very beginning of your career, too. Yes, it is ironic what they did to you at the end of your tenure with them, especially considering that they really stuck by you when you began hosting Late Night, but through it all, you showed an enormous sense of gratitude.

If you look at my left sidebar, I have a section called "Poor Kitten's Almanac." I have listed in that section, Conan, a quote that has been attributed to you: "If life gives you lemons, make some kind of fruity juice." That is exactly what you've been doing throughout all this. I can't imagine what you're going through privately, but publicly, you have been very professional. Some have said that your recent jabs and jokes at NBC's expense have been in poor taste. Well, the fact that you have been showing up for work throughout it all, when some may call in sick, speaks volumes. The fact that you are supplementing some of your staff's severance from your own pocket speaks volumes. The fact that you reminded your viewers throughout the last days of your show to donate to the relief efforts in Haiti reminded us to keep things in perspective.

And then there are the reactions of your late-night peers. I saw the first few minutes of Jimmy Fallon's show last night, and was very lucky to see such a sweet tribute from him and his house band, the Roots:

That little baptism with the 40 oz. was awesome. So was Dr. Oz's reaction. Yet it was so weird to see Studio 6A be something so completely different.

One last thing, Conan: at the end of your show last night, you told your fans not to be cynical, and how much you hate cynicism. I have thought a lot about this remark. And then I questioned the very definition of the word. So I looked it up in my old Webster's American College Dictionary:
  • cynic: 1. a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view. 2. a person who shows or expresses a bitterly or sneeringly cynical attitude. --cynicism, n.
Thank you, Conan, for reminding us that, in spite of everything that is going on in this world, there are still a lot of good, selfless, genuine people. You are one of them. I admired you has a comedian before, but now, I admire you as a person with genuine respect, class, and compassion.

I leave you now with the Neil Young performance from your last show. I just love the lyrics, and how they fit the occasion. That, and the performance was so very moving for me.

And I will listen to it again later.

For it's now on my iPod.

Long may you run, Conan, long may you run.

With much love,
The Bookkitten


Anonymous said...

well said!

Alaine - Queen of Happy Endings said...

Great post! I've watched Conan here is Australia and really enjoyed his show. It's a shame that both the trailers you put up for his last show have been removed. No doubt by NBC as the middle trailer is still working.

septembermom said...

Awesome letter to Conan, Kitten. You're a true fan! I'm going to miss him in that chair. Hopefully, he'll be back on the small screen (or maybe big screen) soon.

Grand Pooba said...

Oh yeah! Man this whole thing is a joke, I'm over it :o)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for speaking for me.

forever_harmony said...

Great letter. Word for word, it's how I feel too. He helped me get through bad times in my life, and now I don't know where to turn. I guess we should turn to each other now. Thanks for visiting my site, I'm subscribing to you blog, so please do the same.