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Summer Reading: Conan Takes On Tonight


I hope you've got big plans to grill up some food and sip some drinks (ideally with little umbrellas) on this Memorial Day, but if you need some light reading to keep you company, I recommend checking out the New York Times Magazine's take on Conan O'Brien. O'Brien, whom a lot of you have been missing these past few months, steps into The Tonight Show's vaunted hosting seat on June 1, and the Times profile explores whether his brand of humor can work on the legendary show.

Writes reporter Lynn Hirschberg:

O’Brien’s approach to comedy and television is analytical and exact. There’s a split in his psyche: he can be goofy, but he obsesses over the nuances of that goofiness. He’s constantly trying to puzzle out how best to be funny five nights a week for an audience of millions.

To see what makes this piece worth checking out, just read more.

The profile talks about his "Darwinian" approach to crafting a show (and includes some glimpses of early Tonight Show ideas), as well as glimpses of how much serious thought went into O'Brien's last Late Night show back in February. There are also a few revealing tidbits about Jay Leno's move to 10 p.m. after he vacates Tonight — including Leno bragging that, "We can do five of my new show for the cost of one CSI: Miami" and an NBC executive's revelation that he once wanted Oprah to do a five-nights-a-week talk show in primetime and resurrected the idea with Leno instead to get him to stay at NBC.

But my favorite parts of the profile are the ones that really get at what O'Brien's dealing with as he gets ready to take the high-profile spot. In one passage, he says:

"I just have to block that nonsense out. In entertainment, you have to stake out what you think is right, you have to put out that signal, make sure it’s pure and then do it and do it and do it and know that they will come. And if they don’t, you have to pack up your bags and say: 'I enjoyed my time here. Sorry it didn’t work out.' But the biggest mistake would be to alter my signal to make sure that I reach all these different people. Because then you’re lost."

In all, this extended peek into O'Brien's psyche just gets me even more pumped to see what happens when he's behind the desk at The Tonight Show next week. Take a peek and then let me know what you think.

Photo courtesy of NBC

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