Conan O’Brien may be moving to “The Tonight Show,” but he’ll still be Conan O’Brien.
That was the latenight host’s message to viewers Friday night as he signed off NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” for the 2,725th and last time.
“We’re going on to this next gig, and sometimes I read that it’s time for Conan to grow up because he’s going to 11:30, and I assure you, that’s just not going to happen,” O’Brien said, to cheers from the studio audience. “I can’t. This is who I am, for better or for worse.”
For his final show, O’Brien showcased memorable clips from the show’s 16 years and welcomed back original sidekick Andy Richter, who had departed the yakker in 2000. The White Stripes made a rare TV appearance, while Will Ferrell (channeling George W. Bush), Abe Vigoda and John Mayer also made appearances.
Friday night’s farewell didn’t elicit any ratings records, according to preliminary metered-market numbers. Among the 56 markets metered by Nielsen Media Research, “Late Night” averaged a 2.6 rating/8 share. That repped the yakker’s best perf since just Dec. 8, 2006, but was still up 44% vs. the show’s average this season (1.8). “Late Night” has won its timeslot for the past 15 seasons.
Full ratings for the finale will be released Thursday.
A visibly choked-up O’Brien spent the last few minutes of the episode thanking a wide variety of execs, staffers and fellow hosts for their support through the years. O’Brien singled out “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night” exec producer Lorne Michaels for giving him a shot at the gig, for starters.
“In 1993, Lorne Michaels took one of the greatest and most ridiculous chances in the history of this medium when he plopped a completely unknown writer with no television experience and bad skin and threw him on television,” he said. “Lorne always told me, ‘I have ultimate faith in you.’ Lorne Michaels single-handedly made my career in television. I don’t know what I did. I think I must have saved his life at some point; he certainly saved mine.”
O’Brien also saluted his predecessor, David Letterman, calling him “one of the most brilliant broadcasters, certainly of the last century and this century and of all time.
“He set the bar absurdly high for everybody in my generation who does this,” O’Brien said. “Living in his shadow has been a burden and an inspiration for me for years.”
As for “The Tonight Show” host he’ll be replacing in June, O’Brien noted that Jay Leno had consistently offered support to him and “Late Night.”
“His success has turned into success for us,” O’Brien said. “I owe that man a great deal.”
O’Brien succeeds Leno on the “Tonight Show” throne June 1. Jimmy Fallon takes over “Late Night” starting March 2.