Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Conan O'brien Talks as If He's a Success

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Conan O'brien Talks as If He's a Success

Article excerpt

IT WAS little more than a year ago that an unknown Conan O'Brien surfaced as David Letterman's successor as host of NBC's "Late Night" show. Since then, he's been grilled by the press, dissed by critics and, according to every rumor floated in the trades, primed for firing from his job at NBC's second-best late-night franchise.

So why is this man smiling?

"Before I even auditioned for this job, I remember (executive producer) Lorne Michaels saying, `Whoever gets this job is going to have to get the - kicked out of them for six months and not mind it.'

"And I nodded my head. He's right."

To his credit, O'Brien has taken every lick since his Sept. 13, 1993, debut. A 31-year-old ex-writer for "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live," he came on the scene in the glare of the media's hottest spotlights. "You don't follow David Letterman, come out of nowhere, be pretty new at it, make your mistakes on the air, and do a completely whole different thing with it and not have people hit you over the head with a baseball bat," he said.

He remembers his elation after the first show. "We really all liked the first show, and I had a good time, and we were all going, `Yeah! Yeah!' And it just suddenly hit me: `This is not about that. This isn't about any one night.' "

And he remembers his initial reviews. "We got a lot of good press and I remember thinking, OK, when's it going to come? I remember the day that Chevy (Chase) was canceled, thinking, `OK. Here we go. Strap in.' "

And the rumors of his imminent demise? "It's the new thing to write about," he said. "If I didn't have this job and someone else did, I'd be reading these stories and saying, `They're talking to ME!' "

These days, however, O'Brien is talking like somebody whose troubles - as well as 150-plus shows - are behind him.

His show has grown from a 1.7 rating, with an 8 percent audience share in its first quarter, to a 1.8 rating, 9 share in the second. He keeps 41 percent of the "Tonight" audience. Letterman's finale season rated in the mid-2s.

"It's a two-fold process," O'Brien said. "I've now done a lot of it. I love being out there. I'm so used to looking in the camera that I don't think about it. …

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