Conan O’Brien and the American late night talk show tradition


Anu Lahtinen

This article seeks to analyse the American late night talk show as a commercial product with a special historical and cultural context. As a case study, the analysis focuses on the talk show host personality of Conan O’Brien as presented in the Late Night with Conan O’Brien (NBC 1994–2009). It also discusses how the reception of O’Brian reflects the evolution of the late night talk show as a genre.

According to Bernard M. Timberg, the host is the ”label” and trademark of the talk show. This is certainly true for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the host of which has become known for his absurd, self-deprecating humor. The article analyses how this humor has been interwoven in all segments of the show. Special attention is paid to O’Brien’s sketches related to Finland in 2005–2006 and to the way they served to reinforce both his stardom and his self-deprecating comedy.

The position of the show is analysed in the context of intensified competition, as the TV audiences become positively scattered and globalized and the number of competing late night products has been multiplied.