"The same way some kids looked up to baseball players, he was an idol to me, and the coolest person imaginable," says Rob LeDonne, who wore Late Night with Conan O'Brien merchandise to high school, of Conan O'Brien. "As a result, I never missed a single show. Since it aired way past my bedtime, I’d hit record on my VHS player every night I went to sleep, and then fast-forwarded to the 12:30 a.m. hour when I got home from school. Of course, I'd rewatch classic sketches ad nauseam. I also have vivid memories of friends and family rolling their eyes at me one summer because I wouldn't stop reading fake predictions out loud from the companion book to the show's popular segment, 'In the Year 2000.' (Example: “It will be revealed that carrots will not actually improve your eyesight. But they are still number one when it comes to scratching a deep rectal itch.") In other words, I was a member of the Late Night hive—a Conan stan, years before the figure of speech came into vogue." With Conan's time in late-night now over, LeDonne says that the TBS show allowed Conan to do a talk show on his own terms. "O’Brien could have done anything with Conan, but in a direct reaction to the Trump years and disturbed by a bubbling xenophobia, he used his platform to produce a series of travel specials to introduce Americans to the human side of other cultures, dubbing it 'Conan Without Borders,'" says LeDonne. "When Trump was stoking fears of immigration and border walls, O’Brien went to Mexico. Immediately after Trump reportedly called Haiti a 'sh*thole' country, Conan went there too. And in an effort to raise awareness about the Armenian genocide, he devoted an episode to visiting that country as well. Now, aside from brief ... gap(s) in (2009 and) 2010, viewers won’t be treated to a daily talk show hosted by O’Brien for the first time since 1993. And while we sure have a hell of a lot of other options, there will never be another regular distinctive daily voice quite like O’Brien’s. We won’t be treated to a daily monologue or his famous string-dance, Conan using his physicality, including towering height and bright red hair, to masterful effect. We’ll be missing his trusty sidekick Andy Richter and his perfect quips. And we’ll miss a trademark fetishization of silly intelligence, with Conan reminding us not only to never forget to be foolish no matter how hard one works, but also that those two things can even go hand-in-hand to beautiful effect. So until his HBO Max show premieres on some unknown date, and in whatever form it takes, I’ll still be wearing my Late Night merch proudly. Regardless of whether or not it gets me laid."
Watch Conan O'Brien's farewell to TBS and late-night, including special tributes to Lorne Michaels and Lisa Kudrow: Michaels was responsible for believing in Conan and urging NBC to hire him as Late Night host to replace David Letterman in 1993, while it was Kudrow who talked him into taking the gig. "I'll just close with this one thought," Conan said in wrapping his TBS show. "I have devoted all of my adult life, all of it, to pursuing this strange phantom intersection between smart and stupid. There's a lot of people that believe that they cannot co-exist, but god -- I will tell you, it is something I believe religiously -- I think when smart and stupid come together-- It's very difficult, but when you can make it happen, I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world."
Breaking down the five phases of Conan's late-night career: Phase 1 was Conan's 16 years on NBC's Late Night, according to Rob Harvilla. Phase 2 was The Tonight Show in 2009. Phase 3 was The Tonight Show in 2010, when everything went awry and he said goodbye on Feb. 20. Phase 4 was the one-hour TBS show from 2010 to 2018. And Phase 5 was the revamped half-hour TBS show that premiered in January 2019. "The best part of Conan’s TBS tenure is what he didn’t do, which is to say he didn’t lean too hard into the Trump era in either direction: He was not a tousler and/or enabler like Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live, nor did he attempt to refashion himself as an eviscerator type like the ineffective and consistently out-satired CBS-era Colbert or the far more effective John Oliver or Samantha Bee," says Harvilla. "Conan’s TBS show stood still while every other late-night show broke into a wild and unsustainable sprint, and he nearly came out of the Trump era back on top by default."
With "Clueless Gamer," few people made having a bad time look more fun than modern-era Conan: "Take it, maybe, as an evolution of the straight-man persona that saw O’Brien spend years feeding set-up lines to a menagerie of masturbating bears, angry little sisters, and racist ghosts on Late Night, a comic exasperation that only got more exasperated during the swift rise and fall (and final, Pyrrhic rise) of his run on NBC’s Tonight Show," says William Hughes. "Somewhere along the line, O’Brien got a lot more comfortable channeling his apparently limitless reserves of annoyance into comedy, whether in the form of the many pieces built around his irritations/interactions with employee (and ostensible friend) Jordan Schlansky, or in his confrontations with the medium of video gaming as a whole."
Conan O'Brien's longtime executive producer Jeff Ross says TBS kept its promise to be hands off: When then-Turner Entertainment president Steve Koonin pitched Conan on launching a show at TBS, he emphasized that Conan would be able to do whatever he wants -- but he wouldn't have a big audience. “He was true to his word. Also about the audience,” says Ross, who's been Conan's executive producer since launching their NBC Late Night show in 1993. “But at least he said it up front: This network can’t deliver you the audience that a network can. But ‘you can come here and it’s your playpen, and we’ll leave you alone.’ And they did. And to this day they have, even after Steve left (in 2014).” Ross and Conan will now take a breather and map out their HBO Max show, which is expected to premiere some time in 2022. “We don’t really know what the show is yet,” says Ross. “We know it has to be something different. We don’t know how often, how many we’ll make yet and we’re still in those conversations. But those guys have been great also, they’re like just, ‘what do you want to do?’ And we’re trying to figure it out.” Ross has also spent time in recent weeks appreciating what Conan was able to accomplish at TBS. “Of course, you know you’re in the volume business, they’re not all gems,” he says. “But the amount of stuff that we did in 11 years that’s so f*cking funny, and of quality, that’s hard to do when you’re doing it every day. I was touched. I was proud to be a part of it.”
Andy Richter describes his feelings as the TBS show wraps: "It’s a little sad," he says. "Mostly, what we’re feeling now is a celebration and, just, pride. I mean, I do feel one of the best things about our show is that we meant something to younger people, people younger than us that were serious about comedy in the same way that the shows that meant something to me when I was in my teenage years, my college years, and thinking about, 'Maybe I want to do comedy for a living,' that we made an impression on people like that and helped form their senses of humor and what they wanted to do with television when they got a chance to do something with television."