— Jimmy Fallon, during the 2010 Tonight Show Scandal. note Jimmy Fallon would end up hosting The Tonight Show, ironically enough.
NBClate-night (specifically, 12:35-1:35 AM) Talk Show and (as the above quote will tell you) training ground for other networks' 11:35 hosts. Began in 1973 as The Tomorrow Show hosted by Tom Snyder, but replaced in 1982 due to lower ratings and stations dropping it for Reruns with the current format. Originally hosted by David Letterman in the 1980s and early '90s. When Johnny Carson stepped down in 1992, Letterman expected to inherit The Tonight Show. Instead, NBC gave it to Jay Leno, previously a regular guest host, and Letterman jumped ship to CBS, taking the show lock, stock and barrel with him. That is, aside from the title "Late Night", which was owned by NBC. Letterman's new show, The Late Show, was placed opposite Leno's Tonight Show. For reasons no one was quite sure of at the time, NBC filled Letterman's old post with an unknown Saturday Night Live and Simpsons writer named Conan O'Brien.O'Brien was largely not expected to last much longer than a week, and indeed was on the verge of cancellation for years, with the fact that there was nobody to replace him the only saving factor. (The critical consensus, O'Brien included, is that the show was terrible for its first three years.) However, O'Brien grew into the role and ended up hosting for nearly sixteen years. NBC made darn sure not to lose another Late Night host to a rival network and plans were drawn up as early as 2004 for him to take over The Tonight Show. After O'Brien did inherit The Tonight Show in 2009, Late Night went to former SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon (who if he's smart had alternate names for all his characters and routines memorized or on undated handwritten papers kept strictly in his home, even though they turned out not to be needed. Yet.)In 2010, The Tonight Show and The Jay Leno Show touched off what the media (and many viewers) termed the 'Late-Night War'; basically, Conan O'Brien made a lateral move to host The Tonight Show, and Leno moved up to an earlier timeslot to helm the Jay Leno Show.After the switch, Leno and O'Brien's ratings began a serious decline; NBC's response was to shorten The Jay Leno Show to thirty minutes and move it from its 10:00 timeslot to 11:35, and move Tonight from 11:35 to a new 12:05 timeslot.The new schedule didn't sit well with O'Brien, who refused to participate in what he called the wholesale destruction of The Tonight Show, which would also bump other programs back by thirty minutes (and possibly remove one from the late-night roster altogether). NBC reportedly gave him the option to accept the timeslot or leave the network; faced with the choice-that-was-not, O'Brien negotiated with NBC for a forty-five million dollar 'walk away' deal, and left NBC entirely, later signing with TBS.Unlike many late night hosts during the conflict, Jimmy Fallon largely resisted jumping into the fray, as he considers both Leno and O'Brien good friends. Fallon took over The Tonight Show in early 2014 when Leno re-retired and was replaced at Late Night by Seth Meyers, also an SNL alum.
Tropes for the show in general include:
Curse: Late Night originally was intended to be the grooming ground for the Tonight Show’s future hosts, but as the controversies that both Dave and Conan had to face against NBC and Jay Leno would tell you, Late Night hosts seem to be destined to eventually host other networks’ 11:35 slots instead. Fallon during the Conan situation even remarked that: "if there's one thing I've learned from Dave and Conan, it's that hosting this show is a one-way ticket to not hostingThe Tonight Show." 4 years after the Conan-Leno fiasco however, Leno has announced a re-retirement and Fallon has been given the reign of hosting The Tonight Show. Here's hoping that Fallon will be able to buck the trend of Late Night hosts getting stuck in Tonight Show controversy this time around.
Long Runner: It's been running continuously since 1982.
Accidental Innuendo: Invoked: A visual instance occurred in a one-time skit involving Late Night collectibles. Conan introduced toy versions of Vomiting Kermit and the Masturbating Bear. Much like bobble heads, the Masturbating Bear has an arm that shakes when you touch it. Conan shook the Bear's arm to make it look like it was masturbating, and soon after activated the Vomiting Kermit so that it threw up on the Bear. Of course, this simultaneously looked like Vomiting Kermit ejaculated on the Masturbating Bear, something which Conan immediately realized and was embarrassed about.
Conan: I did not intend for it to go down like that.
Accidental Misnaming: A recurring gag in the Triumph segments is for Triumph to say he's reporting for the Conan O'Donnell Show.
Added Alliterative Appeal: In one of the Clutch Cargo segments when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor, Conan mentioned that Arnold said previous California politicians were "fiddling, fumbling, and failing". Arnold said he could make alliteration out of any letter. When Conan said the letter "G":
Arnold: These politicians, they've been... grumbling, giggling, and gaying it up!
Ascended Extra: Quackers. Conan once had a segment that featured a duck, which pooped on the stage. The duck later came back to his poop and started to eat it, before Conan yelled at it to stop. This gave him the idea for "Quackers The S*it Eating Duck" segment.
Author Filibuster: Pierre Bernard and his Recliner of Rage segments, where he would rant on length at whatever was bothering him.
Big Blackout: Just prior to taping of the show on August 14, 2003, New York City (and much of the rest of the NE United States) was hit with a massive power outage. After the studio audience was evacuated, Conan conducted a very basic, ten-minute mini-show from the darkened set with announcer Joel Godard and a skeleton crew (before NBC filled the rest of the time with a rerun). You can see it in two parts here and here.
Black Comedy: In a segment where Jordan Schlansky and Conan went to a fancy Italian restaurant, Jordan was trying to tell a story about how it was the night of an important football game and afterwards he was invited down to a cellar. A drunk Conan added: "...And you were raped."
Broken Record: During one monologue, Conan kept trying to start a joke about US Magazine, but kept getting sidetracked. He eventually lampshaded this by saying "US MAGAZINE!" over and over while walking around the set like a robot.
Overlaps with Manipulative Editing: In one of the "Conan on the Aisle" segments, he showed a clip from Goldeneye where this exchange was repeated numerous times:
Captain Obvious: Frequently occurred in the Synchro-Vox segments, such as the one where Conan interviewed Donald Trump, who was advertising Trump Steaks. When a still image of the Trump Steaks package appeared on the screen (which featured Trump pointing at the steaks), Trump said, "That's me pointing at them, you see that? Don't look at me, look at the steaks!"
Catch Phrase: Triumph: "...For me to poop on!" and "I keed, I keed."
Collective Groan: Happened all the time in "If They Mated" when the audience saw the result of what would happen if two celebrities had a child. Occasionally, the audience would groan in disgust at the before pictures. This would amuse Conan: "I haven't done anything yet!"
Corpsing: Anytime La Bamba has to read off the teleprompter. A particularly bad one occurred in a 9/23/2008 episode:
Conan: ...You just had a complete meltdown on national television.
Don't Explain the Joke: In one monologue, Conan delivered a joke: "In California, a female figure skater told police that someone slipped a roofie in her drink. Yeah, female figure skater, yeah. She said she's not sure who did it, but she is sure it wasn't a male figure skater." After few people laughed and Conan commented on the tepid reaction, he said, "Y'see, male figure skaters are gay."
Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Played for laughs whenever a joke of Conan's doesn't do well. If the audience begins to applaud after the initial tepid response, Conan will rebuke them and say, "No pity applause." or "You were right the first time."
The Elevator from Ipanema: One skit involved two contestants racing turtles representing the New York Giants and New England Patriots to determine who would win the 2008 Super Bowl. At one point, the contestants and turtles entered an elevator and guess what song was playing inside?
Conan: (laughs) That is so stupid, I'm sorry.
Evil Inc.: NBC was sometimes portrayed as this, such as the episode where Katt Williams didn't show up and Conan said he has experience killing time, saying he was forced at gunpoint by General Electric to go back on the show despite the 2007-2008 Writer's Strike. He further joked that NBC would pollute the Hudson River even more if he didn't cater to their demands.
Conan: It was a threat! What was I supposed to do?! They said, "You do it or we'll... (mimes dumping motion) You see a seven-eyed fish, you'll know where it came from. (slams mic down) The point is... that now, I'm going to be fired. My old problem was Katt Williams not showing up; now, I've angered a monolithic corporation.
Fauxtastic Voyage: In a recurring sketch, Conan interviews a cast member who claims to be reporting from a distant location while actually standing in front of a projected background. When Conan expresses skepticism that the correspondent is actually at the distant location, the correspondent insists he really is there and purports to prove it by walking to another location (represented by another projected background). The sketch typically ends with Conan walking to where the correspondent is standing (a few feet away on the stage) to hit him with a chair.
Fee Fi Faux Pas: In a Triumph segment where he visited ComicCon '08, Triumph gave a zinger to a guy:
Triumph: If you're here, who's at home disappointing your parents? (crowd laughs, including the guy) Guy: Uh, I dunno, you got me. Triumph: I was talking to the puppet. You're much cooler. (referring to the puppet he's holding) Guy: My parents are dead. (Triumph gets up close to the guy's face, trying to get him to laugh. Eventually the guy licks Triumph's nose)
555: In a one-time sketch about recalled cat food, Conan ended the sketch by saying, "If you think we were wrong to continue the sketch, call 555-1-800... Sanjaya."
Flag Drop: In one segment, Conan remarked how, at the time, Britney Spears had visited New York and was acting drunk. Max Weinberg said he was disgusted, and began a speech directed at Britney about it. The catch was, he wasn't upset with her behavior, but that he didn't get to see her vagina (a reference to Britney getting out of a car without panties). During this faux patriotic speech, a flag dropped behind him in the background.
George Jetson Job Security: In one episode, Conan introduced his "Green Your Routine" public service announcement, but the video clip didn't begin playing right away. Conan jokingly shouted, "EVERYBODY'S FIRED!"
Good Angel, Bad Angel: The recurring sketch "Moral Dilemma", where Conan would be faced with a small one — e.g. finding a wallet full of cash and deciding whether or not to keep it or return it to its rightful owner. Suddenly, a little devil urging him to do the wrong choice would appearing on one shoulder. On the other shoulder, instead of an angel, it would be something like a bear or an astronaut, giving advice pertaining to that character.
Hypocritical Humor: In one of the Clutch Cargo segments, Conan interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger on the subject of immigration. Arnold stated:
Arnold: WE HAVE TO KEEP OUT THE FOREIGNERS! Yah! You do, because... because... they can't speak de Englishes! And Conan, their diction, it can only be described... as fleigengrapenscheizen! Conan: What does that mean? Arnold: It means, that these people lack the vesitruden to achieve the grubenschnitzen!
I, Noun: "I, Rowboat", a parody of the then-recently-released I, Robot movie.
Innocent Innuendo: In a one-shot skit, Conan had Vomiting Kermit vomit up hot chocolate for two freezing bystanders. Then Conan remarked: "But of course, you can't have hot chocolate... without whipped cream. Here to dispense the whipped cream is the one and only Masturbating Bear!" At that, the Masturbating Bear came on stage and literally dispensed whipped cream from a can. When the audience had a disappointed reaction, Conan asked, "Wait a minute, what did you think was gonna happen?" Immediately, the Masturbating Bear did what he does best.
Instant Seduction: One of the entries in the "Late Night Create Your Own Commercial" contest involved a nerdy guy who watched Conan, which highly impressed a woman to the point that the two had sex.
Announcer: Watch "Late Night": It'll get you laid!
Arnold: These are people [immigrants] who risk life and limb, swim across rivers, crawl through the hand-dug tunnels, and give up everything they had, just so that their children might one day see my all-time smash holiday classic, Jingle All the Way!! (audience laughs) Don't you understand, Conan? It's the American dream!
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Played for laughs when Arnold Schwarzenegger was a guest, who dished out the same thing that Conan did to him during the Synchro-Vox segments. One of the sentences that he put in Conan's mouth: "I'm a virgin!"
Motor Mouth: Occurs during the "Small Talk Moment" sketches.
Unrelated: After a commercial break in one episode, Conan began a comedy bit but an unusual alarm noise went off. Conan had to tell the audience that the alarm wasn't part of a bit. It turns out there was a false alarm condition on another floor of the building. This whole segment was kept in the aired episode.
Obfuscating Stupidity: One sketch involved La Bamba announcing he was the winner of a Genius Grant. Conan was surprised, and asked if his stupidity has been an act all this time. La Bamba responded that he had an MFA from Yale, double-majored in molecular biology and Asian studies, and was an erudite polyglot. But he refused to stop pretending, because he could lose his Genius Grant.
La Bamba: (holding up his fingers caught in a Chinese Finger Trap) Help me! Help me, please!
Once per Episode: At the top of the show, Conan scrunched his legs together and took a jump forward, which prompted a trumpet sting. Conan would then stand up and point to the band leader, who would wrap up the opening theme. Episodes frequently had Conan performing "the string dance" as well.
Operator from India: One sketch had Andy Blitz attempting to fix his computer with the help of an Indian telephone IT technician… And traveling to India with his computer (in Real Life!) to pester her.
Patchwork Kids: The recurring sketch "If They Mated", in which images of a celebrity couple get combined into something horrifying. (Often by the end of a segment, they would subvert this by putting ridiculous theoretical couples together and getting silly non-patchwork results — Conan himself plus Scooby-Doo's Daphne, whom he claimed he had a crush on as a kid, resulted in SpongeBob SquarePants.)
Precision F-Strike: In a segment where Jordan Schlansky and Conan went to a fancy Italian restaurant, Jordan kept bugging Conan about savoring the dessert he was about to eat, and finally after many pretentious sentences, Conan told him, "You've GOT to shut the (bleep) up. You're killing me. You're killing my mind, you're killing my spirit. I like you, you're a nice guy; eat the mush, shut the pie hole."
Psychic Nosebleed: Parodied in one episode, where a psychic guest loses copious amounts of blood while using telepathy. The psychic's spoon is indeed nudged, although he is now wearing a wet red shirt for it.
Public Service Announcement: Parodied, of course. For example, during 2008, Conan and his band created some mock "Green Your Routine" ads, which NBC was running at the time.
Joel Godard: One simple way to reduce energy consumption is by turning off all the lights in your house. It's as easy as flipping a switch, or not paying your electric bill for seven months because you kept spending your money on barbiturates.
Pun: This example, which was so bad that the audience booed him.
Conan: This week, airport security in England recently detained James Hetfield, the lead singer for Metallica. Apparently, he kept setting off the heavy metal detector.
Triumph: I'm ready for you, bitch! Can't believe I wasted half my life watching that. No no, it was great. It was great, it was a fascinating interview. I always wondered what would happen if we blow-dried the Weakest Link chick and cut off her nuts! No no seriously, man, what's with the '80s hair? Look at that thing. What's with the '80s hair style, man? You look like Denny Terrio shtupped a chow chow! Get a lawyer and sue Super Cuts! (Triumph grabs some cards) Got a few more here. (Conan laughs) All right. No no, seriously: Who the hell do you think you are, man? (beep) You're telling- listen to me! You're telling th- I don't understand the logic. (...) Seriously, what's the logic here? You go on, and you tell people they have no talent?? That's like poop telling vomit it stinks! I keed, I keed, you're a big star! You're a big star, you're- you're like the star of American Idol, seriously, they should rename it "British Homo". No no, he's fine, he's good, don't worry about him, he can handle it, he gives to people straight and hard! I guess... I guess I don't need a punchline for that one. GO BACK TO ENGLAND, BITCH!!!
Running Gag: Conan will call the area where he does the monologue "The Laugh Zone". He also frequently calls his desk "Old Bessie Lou". And he often purposefully knocks over his microphone.
Screen Shake: In a monologue during the Writer's Strike, Conan wanted to re-enact Cloverfield. What followed was Conan running around the stage while the camera shook violently.
They had used a giant whale costume with functioning blowhole for one sketch. After that, Conan announced that they would feature the costume in as many sketches as possible in order to justify the price of several thousand dollars, and broke the per-scene cost down after each sketch. This was done on at least 8 separate episodes.
Inverted on his last couple of weeks on NBC, where he presented a series of one-off sketches supposedly constructed to be as expensive as possible to the network such as "Purchased fossil of a ground sloth from the Smithsonian spraying an original Picasso with beluga caviar." Generally, these sketches featured obvious fakes or donated loaners, although the rights to air the original recording of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones as a theme song for a character was apparently a significant expense.
The Show Must Go On: In one episode later in the run, guest Katt Williams didn't show up as planned (while Conan was unaware of the cause at the time, it was due to Williams being arrested on weapons charges that same day). With nothing else to fill the eight minutes of screen time, Conan decided to try to beat his "ring spinning" record.
Show Within a Show: "A Couple of Mutts", starring Conan and Triumph. Also "Quackers the Sh*t Eating Duck".
Skyward Scream: In one of the entries for "Late Night Create Your Own Commercials Contest", a nerdy guy takes a woman to bed, leaving the sunglasses-wearing jock who was mocking him earlier to shout, "DAMN YOU, CONAN!" while looking upwards.
Sound Effect Bleep: On the episode where the duck Quackers took a dump on the floor and then ate it, Conan remarked, "There's a (bleep) eating duck over here." and immediately apologized: "I don't swear often, but that's what he did!"
Sublime Rhyme: One segment made fun of Jesse Jackson's "cut Obama's nuts off" remark, with the gimmick that Conan has just uncovered even more exclusive footage of Jackson speaking about cutting off Obama's testicles (with a dubbed-in voice, of course). They all rhymed:
Jesse Jackson: I'm gonna take some cutting tools to his family jewels. / I want him to say "ouch!" when I deflate his pouch. / I'll show no restraint to that which hangs above his taint. / It's twice as zesty when I remove the testes. / I have no preference for his vas deferens. / Here's one I’m still working on: When I see Obama, it's a drag... something-something to his pastry bag.
Take That, Audience!: During 2008, Conan presented a "Late Night Create Your Own Commercial" contest, and showcased some of the entries. After a particularly bad entry:
Conan: Folks, when I decided to do this contest, this is not what I had in mind. (laughs) These are like snuff films. We need more submissions, okay? And I'm changing the rules: They're allowed to be good.
That Came Out Wrong: In 2005, Roger Ebert was a guest and mentioned that he met Rosario Dawson, saying she was beautiful but also surprisingly smart. Realizing that has negative connotations, he reworded it to simply: "She is smart."
Similarly, when Conan interviewed Sylvester Stallone in 2006 to promote the new Rocky film, Conan remarked that it was great seeing Rocky beat the meat again. Conan instantly realized how dirty that line sounded.
Third Time's The Charm: In a one-time sketch about recalled cat food, Joel Goddard said he wasn't bothered by the news, because he only buys generic brand. Conan then asked, "Joel, why would you eat cat food?", to which Joel was supposed to reply, "On what you pay me, I'm lucky I'm not eating paint chips!", but he took three tries to get the line right (the first two times, he was thrown off by actually eating the food).
During the 2007/2008 Writer's Strike, one sketch featured turtles on remote-controlled vehicles and rockets, with the premise being that each turtle represented a different football team that was playing in the 2008 Super Bowl. However, they encountered an unplanned problem when the two turtles crossed the finish line virtually simultaneously; they had to re-do it the next night, and in order to make things fair, they did it for a third time the night after that. The third night's results were the official ruling, as one of the turtles finished way ahead of the other one.
Another example occurred during one "Celebrity Survey" when the on-screen graphics didn't appear like normal. Jeff Ross told Conan that the machine broke, leaving Conan to improvise for a minute while the crew got the machine to work. This was left in the aired episode.
In a skit where Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was interviewed by Dr. Phil, Triumph vomited when he found out that Sally Jesse Raphael was actually a woman.
What Are Records?: In one of the Synchro-Vox segments, Conan interviewed Donald Trump, who was advertising his Trump Steaks, which were being sold exclusively at The Sharper Image. When Conan remarked that this was odd, Trump said that people who shop at supermarkets were fat losers. He further went on to claim that only a couple decades from now, steaks will overtake television in popularity.
Trump: Mark my words! Mark my words! In twenty years, your kids will say, "What? You used to watch images on a screen, instead of just eating a steak?! Are you kidding me?!"
With Friends Like These...: A recurring sketch was "Joe's", a bar where Conan would go to and be relentlessly harassed and insulted by the bartender and another patron. It would always end with Conan snapping and shouting, "I'll pay my tab WHEN I'M GOOD AND READY!!!" and throwing his mug against the wall.
You Get What You Pay For: Conan occasionally says something to the effect of, "This show is free, what do you want?" if the audience boos one of his jokes.
Tropes from the Jimmy Fallon era include:
Audience Participation: One of the few American late night shows that use this. Audience members often participate in quirky games between the monologue and when the guests come out.
Affectionate Parody: Of everything from LOST to Jersey Shore. The elaborate taped parodies of popular TV shows, all set within the Late Night universe, have become a hallmark of Fallon's run on the show.
Calvinball: The "Wheel of Carpet Samples" game. Even worse, the "losers" get $300 Apple Store gift cards, while the "winner" gets a carpet sample.
Taken further with "Wheel of Game Shows", where the joke either involves an Unexpectedly Obscure Answer, or Fallon not mentioning the rules for a game at all (i.e. "Brownie Points", where he only gives out plates of brownies and expects the contestants to know what to do next)
Crosscast Role: The "Real Wives of Late Night" have the cast of the show playing their wives. Lampshaded when the Indianapolis Colts' wives (the players also in drag) come over for a party and Higgins wife offhandedly mentions they look like dudes.
Oh, the Humanity!: Directly parodied with the "Who Cares Hindenburg". After bringing up some useless news stories, usually celebrity gossip, Fallon declares that all those stories are going into the "Who Cares Hindenburg". Then we see Stock Footage of the Hindenburg exploding while an announcer sarcastically mourns the loss of all those stories, ending with "Oh, the humanity! WHO CARES?!"
Precious Puppies: From "If Puppies Could Vote" (Gary Frick, you stop it!) to their 2011 Emmy nomination reel, which featured a puppy dressed up as each member of the writing staff, this incarnation certainly loves a puppy gag.
Homemade Sweater From Hell: During the twelve days before the show takes its Christmas break, Fallon gives them away to members of their audience.
In his very last scene on Late Night, he accompanied the Muppets on drums as they sang "The Weight" by The Band, and then he left the stage and walked down a hallway(with the camera following) to the set of The Tonight Show.
Production Posse: Familiar faces during filmed pieces include staff writers A.D. Miles, Morgan Murphy, and Bashir Salahuddin, as well as Sidekick Steve Higgins, and his niece, SNL actress Abby Elliott.
The Show Must Go On: The show was taped without an audience while New York City was battening down the hatches for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. (David Letterman did a Sandy show in a similar manner.)
Spit Take: There's a game centered around it on the show.