January 12, 2011 / 10:32 PM / 7 years ago

Conan feels liberated after year of tumult

<p>Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter during the premiere of "Conan" on TBS at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, November 8, 2010. REUTERS/TBS/Handout</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Conan O‘Brien said on Wednesday that his tumultuous past year has given him a new lease on life, freeing him to be sillier and more spontaneous on his new late-night TV talk show than he was in the past.

“There (are) a bunch of things that I wouldn’t have conceived of doing a year ago because I hadn’t been through this process,” he said.

A year after quitting “The Tonight Show” in a bitter showdown with late-night king Jay Leno, O‘Brien told journalist that he has no plans to sit down and talk with Leno because there is nothing to learned from last year’s debacle.

“We all know what happened. Life is short, and I‘m really happy here. I don’t think about it too much, and I‘m sure he (Leno) is busy,” he said.

In January 2010, O‘Brien was effectively forced out as host of NBC’s late-night flagship “The Tonight Show” after he refused to move the show back to accommodate Leno following the failure of Leno’s own, new primetime show. Leno was later reinstated as host of “The Tonight Show”.

Leno was cast as the villain while O‘Brien’s ardent fan base supported him. His plight came to symbolize big corporate entertainment (NBC) chasing dollars over creativity (O‘Brien).

The symbolism and media attention, O‘Brien said, often made him feel ill-at-ease. “My only goal is for people to look at me as an entertainer. Standing for something more is something I am suspicious of, and uncomfortable with,” he said on Wednesday.

After the “Tonight Show” debacle, O‘Brien embarked on a nationwide comedy tour and finally returned to TV in November on cable channel TBS with a new talk show “Conan.” His career turnabout, according to TBS, has turned around again.

TBS said on Wednesday the three month-old “Conan” had the biggest 18-49 year-old audience of all the U.S. late night chat programs when taking into account playback on digital video recorders during a seven-day period.

O‘Brien, 47, and fellow TBS host George Lopez also have the youngest viewers, with each attracting an audience with an average age of 33. The average age of Leno’s audience for NBC’s “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS is 56, TBS said, using data from Nielsen Media.

O‘Brien said the last 12 months had been “a crazy journey of discovery” and that the support of TBS had encouraged him to experiment more with wacky ideas, and live “in the moment”.

“I don’t want to over think things. If someone has an idea and I haven’t seen that before, we will try it and see what happens. I am much more willing to throw things out of the window, if I see an opportunity or a moment that I like. I will skip over jokes, or cut things just before we go on air,” he said.

O‘Brien spent 17 years at NBC and just seven months as host of “The Tonight Show” before quitting.

“There is nothing like walking away from ‘The Tonight Show’ to make you really appreciate getting to be on the air, and getting to do a show,” he said philosophically.

“My goal is not to do this forever, but just to do this really well.”

Editing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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