Dialogue: Conan O'Brien
The host will up Emmy's ratings, even if it means he has to kickbox onstage. What more could be asked of an emcee?This is a tough year to be hosting the Primetime Emmy Awards, as Conan O'Brien readily admits. Not that it has been easy before: The only other time he had this gig was 2002, a scant year after Sept. 11. It was questioned then whether it was OK to be humorous again. The prevailing opinion, though, was that O'Brien nailed it with a perfect blend of sass and sensibility. This time, O'Brien finds himself in a predicament of a different sort, looking to set a mood of spoof and celebration during a year of controversy about a new Emmy nomination system and a challenging airdate in late August, rather than the usual September. But it says a lot about the talent of a guy who has been a late-night talk fixture for 13 years, fronting NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," that nobody seems terribly worried about his ability to make those obstacles seem insignificant. O'Brien even admitted to looking forward to the challenge during a recent telephone conversation with Ray Richmond for The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: After being credited with hitting a grand slam as Emmy host in 2002, is the pressure to be terrific again keeping you up nights?
Conan O'Brien: Not really, partly because this is happening on Aug. 27, and most viewers are probably off in a tent camping, making s'mores. Plus, ABC has decided to counterprogram us with the first "Pirates" movie (2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"), which will erode the audience even more. I'm pretty sure that even my parents are going to be watching "Pirates" -- they're big Johnny Depp fans.
THR: What's your take on the griping about the new voting procedure and how it affected nominations in some of the major categories?
O'Brien: I'm sure the TV Academy will need to take a hard look at this and do some adapting, but the truth is, the purpose of awards shows is to give otherwise incredibly fortunate, wealthy people something to bitch about. They live in Beverly Hills, they're zillionaires, (and) they drive cars made of platinum and have 19-year-old girlfriends -- so if they bitch about getting screwed, it's all kind of relative, you know?
THR: I don't have a 19-year-old girlfriend.
O'Brien: That's because you aren't a wealthy television producer. Do I have to spell this out for you?
THR: No, that's OK. But do you worry that viewers might be less inclined to tune in because some of the more popular shows and stars got passed over?
O'Brien: I figure it's more likely to kill us internationally. In Beirut, I can see people sitting around agonizing over (ABC's) "Lost" getting jobbed and wailing, "How can they do this to Edie Falco (of HBO's 'The Sopranos')?" The truth is that controversy is not a terrible thing for the host; it gives me plenty to talk about. My take is, there are just too many good shows now and not enough nomination slots to put them in -- unlike, say, the days of "M*A*S*H," "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Newhart." Everybody now has their pet shows, and they're enraged when they don't see them nominated.
THR: Can you disclose anything about your monologue or pretaped bits?
O'Brien: Honestly, it's more general at this point than specific. You also have to be willing to improvise and say, "You know, let's drop the part where I catapult naked into the audience, covered in cooking oil." You never really know until the last second what's going to feel funniest to you; the idea I like most might come to me just a day or two before (the ceremony).
THR: Oh, c'mon, toss me a bone.
O'Brien: All right, all right, you win: I plan to kickbox Doris Roberts -- it's time. I've also given serious thought to making the entire monologue a vicious attack on Blythe Danner. Everybody loves her, she's very talented, (and) there's no reason for it -- nonetheless, Blythe Danner, the free ride's over. You're going down!
THR: That sounds like one of those ideas you'll probably bag about five minutes after we hang up.
O'Brien: I just want to have the option of completely confusing the 11 people watching at home -- because no one would see a Blythe Danner smackdown coming. Trust me, it'll be the toast of YouTube on Monday.