Co­nan gets a call-up

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WHEN Co­nan O’Brien took over as host of the Late Night talk show in 1993, view­ers were start­ing to spread across dozens of ca­ble chan­nels tai­lored to taste.

He leaves Late Night to suc­ces­sor Jimmy Fal­lon (a slot Rove McManus had hoped to fill) in a few weeks to re­place Jay Leno on The Tonight Show and faces an even more splin­tered uni­verse.

‘‘One of the ques­tions I have to re­solve by do­ing this show is: What is a 21st-cen­tury Tonight Show?’’ O’Brien says. ‘‘What is a Tonight Show in 2010, ’11, ’12, in a world where there are DVRs (dig­i­tal video recorders) and 300 ca­ble chan­nels?’’

Be­fore he can build it in his own im­age, O’Brien has pored over de­signs for the new stu­dio NBC is build­ing him on its Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios lot — not part of the ad­ja­cent theme park be­cause ‘‘I don’t want some­one who’s just been through a log flume and has 65 litres of a su­gar drink in them watch­ing me chat’’.

The new home will be not quite dou­ble the size of his Stu­dio 6A home at New York’s Rock­e­feller Cen­tre, which could hold an au­di­ence of about 200. Size and scale are of the ut­most im­por­tance — big­ger, but not too big. ‘‘You need in­ti­macy,’’ he says. ‘‘You want to al­low for the pos­si­bil­ity of a herd of ele­phants wan­der­ing in, but the fun­ni­est things that hap­pen on my show a lot of times are small mo­ments that hap­pen in a small space and then ex­pand.

‘‘The re­al­ity is you get to a cer­tain size and un­less you’re Gal­lagher and you’re smash­ing wa­ter­mel­ons with a mal­let, you’ve lost peo­ple be­yond the eighth row.’’

As for how the show it­self changes, O’Brien ex­pects it will be sim­i­lar to his growth on Late Night.

‘‘There are things that I did in my 30s and early 40s, like Mas­tur­bat­ing Bear, that I’m sure some frat guys will say, ‘You sold out by not do­ing Mas­tur­bat­ing Bear’. But I’m tired of it. I’m 45 years old . . . and I have two kids now.’’

He has, in cer­tain re­spects, grown up on Late Night.

‘‘I know I’m get­ting The Tonight Show, but the sem­i­nal broad- cast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of my life is al­ways go­ing to be the Late Night show,’’ he says.

‘‘Be­cause you’re only that young and crazy and hun­gry and de­luded once. It’s Rock­e­feller Cen­tre, David Let­ter­man’s stu­dio and that crazy story we went through (where) I al­most got (axed) five times and shouldn’t even be here. Noth­ing can match that.’’

O’Brien’s tran­si­tion to Tonight, how­ever, has not been seam­less. Leno has an­nounced he is not only stay­ing at NBC but will have a new show five nights a week, 95 min­utes be­fore Tonight.

Many think this weak­ens O’Brien’s plat­form. He moved.

‘‘I fully ex­pect the me­dia will spec­u­late over what this means and we’re all go­ing to find out in the next cou­ple of years,’’ he says.

‘‘I’m happy that Jay is stay­ing at NBC . . . I have no in­ter­est in an­other late-night war. The me­dia likes it, but I don’t think Jay likes that and I don’t like that.

‘‘What I de­cided when I heard about this is to say, ‘Look, I’m happy he’s stay­ing. I don’t know ex­actly how this is go­ing to play out, but noth­ing has changed for me’. I’m host­ing The Tonight Show. That’s the show I watched with my dad when I was 10.’’

is un-

Big shoes to fill:

Co­nan O’Brien takes over from Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.

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