For my parents’ generation, their late-night host was Johnny Carson; he became a legend, watched by everyone of a certain age, and when Carson retired an important era in late-night television ended.
For my generation, our Johnny Carson was Conan O’Brien. He became the go-to guy for college students, probably the only people who could regularly stay up to watch him at his late hour. Personally, going to school in the Central Time Zone made it easier to watch him, but I remember my friends and I watching him together every night we could. We knew all the characters and running jokes, and laughed just as hard the 100th time he did things like the Chuck Norris Lever as we did the first time. I was in middle school during the Andy Richter years, so I missed them, but for the past seven years my friends and I have been able to witness almost everything Conan does. Sometimes we’d maybe watch Letterman (never Leno, he’s practically unwatchable most of the time), but Conan was the guy we made sure to catch.
Last night was his last show before moving to the Tonight Show in June, and the past two weeks he’s been running the best clips from his old shows. I’ve seen most of them, either live or on the internet, and every single one was just as funny now as it was when I first saw it. Last night was a perfect way to end the show, with Andy coming back and the White Stripes, very close friends with Conan, playing a toned-down, emotional song, and Conan finally ending by giving a heartfelt speech thanking various people important to him (I think it was kind of telling that he spent more time and more praise on Letterman than on Leno; Conan has always been Letterman’s heir). It was exactly the way a show like his should end, and it’s going to be interesting to see if he changes his act for the earlier audience. He promised last night he wouldn’t, and I hope he doesn’t, but part of me is worried. We’ll see what happens.