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I enjoy Conan O’Brien more than Jay Leno and that clearly influences how I feel about this whole late-night debacle. He’s who I watched when I stayed up late in high school to do homework and he’s who I watched in college when the night was just beginning and he has been who I watched in my young adulthood. When he took over The Tonight Show, I was thrilled, and when his first musical guest was Pearl Jam – my favorite musicians of all time – I knew he understood his demographic exactly.
Or, more accurately, me.
When Conan started making high schoolers and college students laugh in 1993, Pearl Jam was the biggest band in the universe. Now here they were, in 2009, kicking off a new Tonight Show. And that’s not the only musician I can link Conan to, either. Check out this list of the guests and musical guests from his days on Late Night. For me, I take note of some of my favorites, all appearing in just the first two seasons of the show: Radiohead, Blur, Reverend Horton Heat, Weezer, Jars of Clay, They Might Be Giants, Meat Puppets, Better Than Ezra, The Goo Goo Dolls, Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories, and don’t forget Ben Folds Five made its national television debut on Late Night. ((According to the link, this was on December 26, 1995. I wonder if they sang “Brick” with it’s line “Six a.m. Day after Christmas…”)) As for Pearl Jam, blogger Chris Hanaka recalls that they only appeared on Letterman (SNL aside) until they were the premiere musical guests for The Tonight Show in 2009, and I’d argue appearing on Letterman, Conan’s Late Night predecessor, is miles closer to Conan than Leno.
And what of The Tonight Show’s musical guests from that era who I enjoy and are still kickin’ it old school? Pearl Jam, Green Day, Alice In Chains, Incubus, Wilco, Chris Cornell, The Flaming Lips, Weezer, The Brian Setzer Orchestra. And that’s in the show’s first seven months. Check out the whole list here. ((If you ask me, the only real misstep was Creed, but I suppose that’s pretty subjective.)) These bands scream me. I cannot recall musical artists who appeared on Leno because I either tuned out before they came on or I didn’t hear of anyone who really compelled me to watch (or it’s possible I was just unaware or am missing artists in my mind). This roster and the previous Late Night roster help me know Conan is shooting for my demographic and that’s okay with me.