Conan O’Brien returning to host Correspondents’ Association dinner

Comedian Conan O'Brien is returning to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, nearly 20 years after his first appearance.
February 20, 2013

Late-night funnyman Conan O’Brien will be back to host the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April.

It will be Coco’s second at-bat entertaining the president, politicos, journalists and Hollywood petting zoo that fill out the clambake’s guest list each year.

Late-night guy Jimmy Kimmel hosted last year’s dinner, ironically as part of a carefully orchestrated walk-up to his taking over ABC News’s “Nightline’s” time slot on ABC.

Association President Ed Henry of Fox News tweeted the news Wednesday morning.

Conan was also the headline act at the dinner in 1995.


Conan O’Brien did not exactly have the guests rolling in the aisles when he hosted the dinner in 1995. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

A lot has changed since then. Bill Clinton’s not president, Conan’s not an NBC star, and the fodder for cheap gags is no longer the O.J. Simpson murder trial. (Back in ’95, Conan said: “When I got the invitation I was thrilled that I’d be speaking in the same room with the most powerful man in the country, but then I heard Judge Ito canceled.”)

Conan and the annual Washington gala are inextricably entangled.

When Conan hosted the event the first time, it was about 20 months after he had replaced David Letterman as host of “Late Night,” as NBC watched skeptically, re-upping his contract for the shortest of periods: 13 weeks here, six weeks there.

Fast-forward to January 2010. About 24 hours before Conan’s last night as host of NBC’s “Tonight Show” (to which he’d been promoted the previous year), the association announced that it had asked Jay Leno to host that year’s dinner. Conan officially became the shortest-lived host of America’s longest-running late-night talk-show franchise.

In its defense, the association asked Leno weeks earlier, when he was simply the host of a prime-time “program-to-margins” TV show that was failing five nights a week on NBC, while he waited for Conan to implode.

By the time Leno actually appeared at the Washington bash, he was officially the guy who pushed aside Conan and became the newly returned host of “Tonight,” as well as the butt of every other late-night talk-show host’s jokes.

When we say Conan is coming back to host the dinner again, we mean he’s coming back to redeem himself. He was pretty bad in ’95 — not too bad out of the gate, but he lost the crowd when he began to interview a giant talking Bill Clinton head on a screen, while Actual Bill Clinton watched from the dais. When Conan informed Giant Talking Clinton Head that the interview was being broadcast only on C-SPAN, the head said: “Well, if no one’s watching: Hey, everybody, I inhaled! I smoked my brains out. They used to call me Weed Willia — Yee Haaa!”

And, although it hardly seems possible, things went downhill from there.

“I kind of hate to come up here,” Actual President Clinton said, taking the lectern, after Conan ran out of gas and sat down. “I’d rather listen to Conan talk to that worthless redneck on the screen for another half an hour.”

Burns wins ‘Park’ ruling

WETA-based filmmaker Ken Burns has won his legal battle with New York City over outtakes and notes from his documentary about the wrongful conviction of five teens in the racially charged 1989 “Central Park jogger” rape case.

The convicted men have sued the city for $50 million, and city attorneys subpoenaed Burns’s Florentine Films to try to obtain outtakes from his documentary “The Central Park Five” to help their defense.

Burns interviewed the five men in the film he made with daughter Sarah Burns and her husband, David McMahon.

Burns battled the subpoena, claiming that it violated journalistic privilege. The city, meanwhile, insisted that Burns lost his journalistic privilege when he publicly advocated on behalf of the film’s subjects.

Manhattan Federal Court Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis sided with Burns on Tuesday, writing in his ruling that the city “failed to present this court with ‘a concern so compelling as to override the precious rights of freedom of speech and the press’ [that] the reporter’s privilege seeks to ensure.”

The five men were convicted of raping Trisha Melli in Central Park, giving confessions after 16 hours of interrogation without legal representation. Years later, they were released after another man confessed to the crime.

“David McMahon, Sarah Burns and I are grateful for this important decision; we feel the judge made exactly the right ruling,” Burns said Wednesday in a statement, adding that the ruling “adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere.”

Perry comedy to OWN

TBS’s Tyler Perry comedy “For Better or Worse” is moving to Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, the latter announced Wednesday.

On its new network, the show’s third season will debut in the fall. The original cast members are set to return in their starring roles, including Tasha Smith, Michael Jai White, Crystle Stewart, Kent Faulcon, Kiki Haynes and Jason Olive.

OWN also has snagged the first two seasons (45 episodes) of the comedy about three couples in various stages of their relationships. TBS telecast those first two seasons.

It will be Perry’s third scripted series at OWN. Perry recently signed an exclusive deal with the cable network — a co-venture of Oprah’s Harpo and Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications — to create two original series.

A comedy, “Love Thy Neighbor,” and an ensemble drama, “The Haves and the Have Nots,” are scheduled to premiere in May as OWN’s first venture into original scripted fare.

“For Better or Worse” was basic cable’s No. 1 sitcom in 2011, and the No. 1 show on television among African American adults. In 2011, it averaged about 3 million viewers. By 2012, it was down to 2 million.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/
tvblog
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