Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Long after Letterman, It's Not `Conan Who?'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Long after Letterman, It's Not `Conan Who?'

Article excerpt

CONAN O'Brien is still standing.

More than 6 feet off the ground, in fact, when he could have been 6 feet under.

It has been three years since NBC announced that O'Brien would succeed David Letterman as host of "Late Night." To which America responded: "Conan who?" "It's scarier now to look back on it," says O'Brien, 32, a carrot-topped host with a string-bean build, choirboy looks and slightly devilish sense of humor. Well known behind the scenes in Hollywood as an Emmy-winning writer on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and producer of Fox Broadcasting's super-cartoon "The Simpsons," O'Brien was a non-entity to the viewing public. The media, far more interested in the late-night battle earlier in the evening between Letterman and Jay Leno, greeted O'Brien with a collective shrug. Still, the pressure was on. "I just put my whole reputation on the line and risked being a Trivial Pursuit joke," says O'Brien, unwinding in his Rockefeller Plaza office after a recent taping. When "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" made its debut Sept. 13, 1993, O'Brien decided to open the show playing "the happy idiot," a character who, despite a half-dozen reminders that "You'd better be as good as Letterman," seemed oblivious, whistling his way to work. Then, alone in his dressing room, he cheerfully prepared a noose with which to hang himself. But a call to the stage saved him. And the show went on. And has stayed on - despite some early predictions to the contrary. Though O'Brien has nothing even approaching a long-term contract, he has a healthy ratings edge on his competition at CBS, Tom Snyder, and has gradually been given longer leases on life. (He is signed into the fall of '96 and in December reportedly received a raise from $1.2 million to $2 million a year - a vote of confidence, to say the least.) Now with a pop-culture buzz about the show building, the rhythm between the host, sidekick Andy Richter and bandleader Max Weinberg cooking along, O'Brien seems primed for a major breakthrough. …

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