I'll try not to write too much about Conan, since he's pretty much dominated this spot the last 2 weeks, but I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about his final Tonight Show just a little bit. Even if you're not a fan of his style of writing and performing, you have to admit (okay, maybe not everyone, but most do) that his final show was a spectacular hour of television. From top-notch guests (Tom Hanks, Neil Young) to special surprises (Steve Carell giving an "NBC exit interview"; Will Ferrell being joined by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Beck, Ben Harper, the Tonight Show Band, and Conan himself for a rockin' rendition of "Freebird"), it was an hour of comedy and variety that anyone would be proud to end their run with.
The whole week had some great comedy and great interviews, with Adam Sandler, Zachary Levi, Tom Brokaw, Robin Williams (who was on Carson's second-last Tonight Show too), and even PeeWee Herman all stopping by. Much has also been made about Conan's rising ratings once all the fuss started, building to massive numbers on Thursday and astronomical numbers for the final show (it was the 3rd highest-rated non-sports show of the week on any network, primetime included, and was the highest-rated NBC show all season). And while many point out that his ratings only rose because of the spectacle, if that's the case, those new eyes were treated to Conan O'Brien and his staff at their absolute best. I mean, a $12-million comedy bit? Brilliant!
One thing that wasn't mentioned much in all the Conan/Leno/NBC insanity was something Neil Young actually pointed out after his peformance on Friday's show. He said it to Conan sort of off mic, right before it cut to commercial, so it was hard to pick up, but he told Conan, "Thanks for everything you've done for new music." I know this is all about comedy television, but the impact Conan and both his shows have had on the music scene can't be understated. Conan and his music bookers always seemed to champion new and groundbreaking music. So many bands and artists made their network debuts on his show, and it's in no small part due to Conan's personal love for music. Young was right, and it shouldn't be overlooked.
That's why the final 7 minutes of Conan's too-brief stint as host of The Tonight Show was so fitting. It was funny, sure, seeing Will Ferrell try to sing "Freebird" in a comedically-serious way, but it was also sweet seeing all those great musicians -- and Conan himself -- jamming out to a classic tune, and having a blast doing it. It was mentioned a few times by Conan during his final shows that they all just wanted to "have fun on television" -- and that's what it's all been about. These late night talk shows might be a good way for an actress to promote her new movie, a band to get their big break, or a stand-up to reach a new audience, but really, it's just about watching some fun TV. Carson was always fun to watch. Letterman used to be so much fun to watch. Even Jay Leno has had moments that have been fun (though part of what turns me off to him is that often it just seems like a 9 to 5 job to him). Ferguson definitely has fun. Jimmy Fallon's giggling proves he's having fun. But over the last 17 years, nobody's had more fun than Conan O'Brien. Here's hoping there's more fun to be had come this fall!
As for other shows, there's some fun stuff this week, too, even though there are quite a few repeats now that the NBC circus has died down:
Harrison Ford (Tuesday on Kimmel) – It's not just for Harrison Ford (though he is pretty cool). Tuesday's Jimmy Kimmel Live is the 7th anniversary show, so it should be a pretty big spectacle (for a show that starts at 12:05am). Kristen Bell is also a guest on the show, proving that anytime a late night talk show wants to celebrate a monument, Kristen Bell is a perfect guest (she was also on Craig Ferguson's 1000th show). Kimmel showed some good stuff these last couple weeks, so here's hoping he uses that momentum to continue with strong comedy in his 8th year.
Denzel Washington (Tuesday on Letterman) – If you're like me, your eyes have been tuned to The Tonight Show the last couple weeks. I know I've forgotten all about Letterman, other than checking out clips of his NBC/Jay rants and bits online. So even though this week is repeats for The Late Show, you may have completely missed Denzel on Letterman a couple weeks ago. But now you'll still have a chance to watch one of the best actors of our generation trade jabs with Dave.
Eddie Izzard (Wednesday on Ferguson) – Izzard is one of the best stand-ups around, and from what I recall (I'm far too lazy to look it up to confirm) he and Ferguson go way back. Ferguson is always funniest when he has a guest who he used to know back in his UK days.
Will Arnett (Thursday on Kimmel) – It's a Kimmel-heavy list this week, but it's not my fault he's got great guests this week. Mr. Arnett, who is one of the few funny parts of When in Rome (which comes out Friday), is always a great guest on any of the shows, mostly because he's one of the funniest people on the planet.
Ron McLean (Tuesday on Strombo) – Okay, so this may only be cool for Canadians (and specifically, hockey fans), but since Strombo is on the CBC anyway, it works out. The man who has to deal with Don Cherry every Saturday night is a very interesting person, especially when he veers away from hockey discussion and into other things.
The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS)
Mon 01/25: Bradley Cooper, Rachel Maddow, Nick Jonas & the Administration (Repeat)
Tue 01/26: Denzel Washington, heart surgeon Dr. O. Wayne Isom, the Low Anthem (Repeat)
Wed 01/27: Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Sudeikis, Findlay Brown (Repeat)
Thu 01/28: Kiefer Sutherland, Keri Russell, the HotRats (Repeat)
Fri 01/29: Sigourney Weaver, Marv Albert, Julian Casablancas (Repeat)
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS)
Mon 01/25: Carl Reiner, Alicia Witt
Tue 01/26: Quentin Tarantino, Adrianne Palicki
Wed 01/27: Eddie Izzard
Thu 01/28: Rosie O'Donnell, Wilco
Fri 01/29: Jon Heder, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dana Eagle
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
Mon 01/25: Michael Cera, Ana Gasteyer, Shwayze (Repeat)
Tue 01/26: Amy Adams, John Oliver, Jim Meehan (Repeat)
Wed 01/27: Maggie Gyllenhaal, David Ortiz, Lenny Clarke (Repeat)
Thu 01/28: Ringo Starr (Repeat)
Fri 01/29: Freddie Prinze Jr., Anthony Anderson, Ke$ha (Repeat)
Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC)
Mon 01/25: Joan Rivers, Dax Shepard, chef Paul Bartolotta (Repeat)
Tue 01/26: Harrison Ford, Kristen Bell, Silversun Pickups (7th Anniversary Show)
Wed 01/27: Mel Gibson, Kate Micucci, Mayer Hawthorne
Thu 01/28: Will Arnett
Fri 01/29: Josh Duhamel, Shorty Rossi, John Mayer
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central, CTV)
Mon 01/25: Bill Gates
Tue 01/26: Elizabeth Warren
Wed 01/27: Ethan Watters
Thu 01/28: Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central, CTV)
Mon 01/25: Kati Marton
Tue 01/26: Paul Begala, Mika Brzezinski
Wed 01/27: Arthur Benjamin
Thu 01/28: David Gergen
Last Call with Carson Daly (NBC)
Mon 01/25: Jason Reitman, Kenna, Franz Ferdinand (Repeat)
Tue 01/26: Snoop Dogg (Repeat)
Wed 01/27: Glenn Howerton, Chad Hedrick, Cold War Kids (Repeat)
Thu 01/28: Chris Kattan, Nuttin But Stringz, Lily Allen (Repeat)
Fri 01/29: Charlie Hunnam, Erin Hamlin, Phoenix (Repeat)
Lopez Tonight (TBS)
Mon 01/25: Cheech Marin & Tommy Chong, Regina King, Train
Tue 01/26: Sofia Vergara, James Van Der Beek, Jamie Kennedy
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)