Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘Friends’ Star Lisa Kudrow Told Ex Conan O’Brien He was ‘No One’ Ahead of Late Show Debut

‘Friends’ Star Lisa Kudrow Told Ex Conan O’Brien He was ‘No One’ Ahead of Late Show Debut

When Conan O’Brien premiered on late-night TV in 1993, he was unknown. His Ex Lisa Kudrow had no issue pointing out the fact at the time. In Vanity Fair‘s recent oral history of Late Night with Conan O’Brien‘s inaugural year, notable figures from Conan O’Brien’s life, including his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Kudrow, shared memories of that remarkable time.

“I don’t know how much we talked about it. I just knew, ‘You’re trying to replace David Letterman. No one replaces David Letterman. You’re no one,” Kudrow told the outlet. “It can’t be anybody that an audience would know.”

Kudrow intended her comment in the most positive manner possible. To compete directly with a TV titan like David Letterman, who hosted late-night talk shows from 1982 to 2015, the former Friends star argued that selecting a fresh face like O’Brien, a writer on The Simpsons and SNL, was the optimal choice. NBC was reportedly contemplating Garry Shandling during that period.

Lisa Kudrow Wasn’t Alone in Her Thoughts on Conan O’Brien Hosting ‘Late Night’

The network appeared to concur with Lisa Kudrow’s perspective on Conan O’Brien. However, O’Brien recalled his hosting audition as akin to “linguine meeting marinara sauce for the first time.” Unfortunately, his debut season was plagued by unfavorable reviews and disappointing ratings.

“We were very naïve. I just had to go through the spanking machine. I had to develop from a fetal pig to a full-size pig in front of America,” O’Brien explained. “And that just had to happen. There was no way around it.”

The show teetered on the brink of cancellation multiple times, yet one pivotal moment emerged when Letterman made a surprise appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in February 1994. This particular instance bolstered O’Brien’s confidence and enticed certain viewers to reconsider the show.

Come the summer of ’94, viewership skyrocketed, fueled mainly by college students riding the wave of curiosity. “Suddenly the audiences became great. I didn’t know what was happening. And then it dawned on me,” O’Brien recalled. “Colleges let out. So college students started to come.”

Late Night with Conan O’Brien aired until 2009, receiving 28 nominations and winning one Emmy in 2007 for outstanding writing in the category of variety, music, or comedy program.

In 2009, O’Brien replaced Jay Leno as the host of The Tonight Show. However, he left after just one year when NBC decided to retool the series. Jimmy Fallon took over and has been hosting the show ever since.

In 2010, O’Brien joined TBS and hosted over 1,400 episodes of Conan before saying goodbye to late-night TV in 2021. He now hosts the popular podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, in which Lisa Kudrow has been a guest.