Up at the crack of dawn, the critics covered late night Wednesday, slogging onto a bus to go to the Warner Bros. lot. And the big news is: Don't expect a Conan O'Brien-Jay Leno sitdown anytime soon.
"There's nothing to be figured out," said O'Brien. "Life is short. I've got kids and a family, and I don't think about it too much, but I'm sure he's busy anyway."
The crits sat in the cavernous George Lopez Show studio ("I know we're in this for the long haul," said Lopez. "They installed this giant air conditioner.") and then segued to O'Brien's much smaller one. "I was shocked and amazed," O'Brien said when I asked him if he felt dissed by the relative sizes. Then he explained that he wanted it that way.
One of the first meetings the show's brain trust had was to discuss how to construct a studio that would recapture the feeling of the concert tour he took last year, while waiting for NBC's no-new-TV-show contract clause to run out. "It's an intimate lab to screw around in and try things," O'Brien said.
One thing the small studio does is amplify the frenzied "Co-Nan Co-Nan" that erupts spontaneously in the audience at the top of each show. "It has a Stalinist feel about it," O'Brien said. "It's fun to be Mussolini for four or five minutes." The host averred that contrary to encouraging the vocal display, "We can't seem to stop it." Everybody seems to be hoping it will eventually die out.
O'Brien keeps getting older, but his audience, along with Lopez's the youngest in late night, doesn't. "I've been as mystified by that as anybody," O'Brien said. "I think there's an innate silliness in me."
Lopez said he was happy to move from 11 p.m. to midnight to make way for Conan. "It's a franchise for the future. Neither one of us is 50 yet. We could be on for a long time."
But not forever, O'Brien promised. "I'm going to work for a period of time until I have nothing left to say."
So does that mean they end the show in February?