Conan O’Brien made a “surprise” appearance Wednesday night on his old show, “Late Night,” marking his first visit to NBC since his short-lived stint as host of “The Tonight Show.”
We place the word “surprise” in quotation marks in these cases because these “surprises” are usually planned in advance. Which is to say: Conan’s walk-on appearance during pal Jimmy Fallon’s monologue was certainly a surprise to the studio audience, but it’s doubtful it was a surprise to Fallon or NBC since you can’t just walk into 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York and casually stride on to a live TV show anytime you feel like it.
That’s a minor point, though. We happened to catch the segment and after Conan exited a few minutes later, we weren’t sure what to think of it. Certainly, Fallon and Conan – two old pros when it comes to show business – did their best to make the appearance come across as light-hearted. Please note: They acted as if the studio was Conan’s old one – which it wasn’t; his “Late Night” was taped in another one.
But you had to wonder if Conan felt ill-at-ease on-stage on the show he once hosted, before he reached for the brass ring of the bigger “Tonight Show,” and then lost it. Cut to last night, and suddenly he’s back on his old stomping grounds, no doubt running into stagehands and other personnel he knew well, then joshing with the guy who inherited his show and who now draws bigger audiences than he does on TBS.
Fallon and Conan made oblique reference to “The Tonight Show,” and then quickly moved on. The “point” of the bit, if there was a point, was for Conan to retrieve something he left at the show when he moved to California. So he reached behind a cushion of one of Jimmy’s guest chairs and retrieved Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog – star of one of the ongoing bits Conan made iconic during his storied run as host of “Late Night.”
And now, we’re not even sure Conan can use Triumph on his own show – we’re pretty sure we remember that NBC retained ownership of such “intellectual property” when the network and Conan parted company.
Conan was in town to tape a week’s worth of New York-based TBS shows at a theater – the Beacon – on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, mere blocks from where he once lived.
All we’re saying is: When watching him Wednesday night on NBC, we wondered what was really going through his mind.