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.
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.”
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