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Emmy cliffhanger: What will that rascal Conan O'Brien do if he wins?

August 27, 2010 |  4:05 pm

If Conan O'Brien's version of "The Tonight Show" wins best variety series on Sunday — as some pundits like me think it will — expect all Emmy heck to break loose.

Consider the set-up. Not only will Coco get a chance to exult in reaping ultimate revenge against NBC for being fired from "The Tonight Show" while he appears live on national TV, his victory will occur on the peacock web, which telecasts the Emmys.

Conan o'brien tonight show emmys news

Now here's the inevitable plot complication. O'Brien can't trash NBC. He's not permitted to let loose against his former employer until Sept. 1 — that's three days after the Emmys — according to the terms of his $45-million buy-out pact.

But since O'Brien is a notoriously devilish comedian, he'll certainly find some way to inject mischief into the scene.

Will he win? His "Tonight Show" competes against "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," which has romped home with the award for the last seven years in a row, but that juggernaut is likely to stop. Winners are chosen by Emmy judges who evaluate one sample episode submitted by each nominee. "Daily Show" entered its May 10th program featuring guest, historian Jack Rakove. Fine, but not good enough in this race where several mighty rivals loom.

"Saturday Night Live" has not won this category since 1993, but now it's a fierce contender because it entered the Betty White episode that just swept the Creative Arts Emmys. Speaking of the Creative Arts Emmys, "The Colbert Report" just won best variety writing there and, in the race for best series, it's overdue to beat the show from which it spun off in 2005. In that series contest, "Colbert Report" gave Emmy judges a doozy of an episode too — the one where Stephen Colbert goes to Iraq to entertain U.S. troops and gets a surprise visit via satellite from Barack Obama.

Colbert's show may feature our U.S. Commander-in-Chief, but it will still get outranked at the Emmys by the historic import of O'Brien's final episode of "The Tonight Show." It was a heart-tugging, hilarious farewell that began with O'Brien telling his audience, "We only have one hour to steal everything in the studio!" Then there was a riotous video montage of highlights from his seven months on the show and a visit by a NBC employee (Steve Carell) giving him his exit interview during which Carell put O'Brien's employee badge through a shredder.

O'Brien's farewell included a chummy visit by Tom Hanks and one really awful comedy skit gone awry: Will Ferrell's painfully unfunny musical rendition of "Free Bird" that wouldn't quit. But the episode was redeemed by boundless heart.

"Every comedian dreams of hosting 'The Tonight Show,' " O'Brien said. "I got to do it for seven months and I got to do it my way and I do not regret one second of what we've done here … The outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming for me — the rallies, the signs, all the goofy creativity on the Internet. People camped out overnight in the rain to be here tonight. You've made a sad situation joyous and inspirational."

His voice cracked with a stifled sob when the comedian got to his laughless punchline: "To all of the people watching, I can never, ever thank you enough for all of the kindness to me. I'll think about it for the rest of my life."

Surely, Emmy judges got choked up too, as they watched this episode on DVD before checking off their ballots. Assuming they picked it to win, we must wonder: How will O'Brien respond when he reaches the podium. Maybe he'll shock us utterly by being extremely kind.

"I've worked with NBC for over 20 years," he said in that episode. "Yes, we have our differences right now. Yes, we're going our separate ways, but this company has been my home for most of my adult life."

Photo: NBC


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