Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this column incorrectly described NBC's "Late Night" as the lead-in program to "The Tonight Show." "Late Night" follows "The Tonight Show." This version has been corrected.

Shamelessly, the press is cuckoo for Coco's stuff. Gamely, Conan can do humble.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 11:00 PM

PASADENA, CALIF.

The Reporters Who Cover Television are deeply, madly in love with Conan O'Brien.

Not figuratively - literally. They would probably, if asked, agree to have his children. Especially the guys. A Q&A session with Conan on the set of his TBS late-night show during Winter Press Tour 2011 has the quality of an autograph session after a Miley Cyrus concert.

One reporter wonders aloud when Conan thinks he became a sex symbol.

Conan has the good sense to pooh-pooh the idea. Nor has Coco gone all I Am God's Vessel on us, like Oprah has with her new cable network. But Conan can't stop talking about the "journey of discovery" he's been on since NBC decided to return Jay Leno to late night and shift Conan's ratings-hungry "Tonight Show" to midnight, which Conan rejected, walking away from "Tonight" after just seven months on the job. Or, as this crowd sums up the events: "NBC sacked Conan."

Conan insists he has an "Irish Catholic suspicion of praise and anything over the top" - like his getting turned into a "media story" and having tabloid reporters tail him to a Santa Barbara hotel, where he and his family had gone to "chill" after he left "Tonight." Then there was that time - which Conan notes he talked to the New York Times about - when he walked into a restaurant and "everybody in that restaurant applauded."

Conan insists he would be very "happy to move past this period of time" and have people say whether they liked "my show last night or not," rather than this media story.

Yet Conan had a camera follow him at home and document him in the wake of the whole "Tonight" kerfuffle.

"A friend of mine shot documentary footage, really starting with this period and taking it through the tour and . . . you can see that I . . . have all this energy. . . . I really need to be in the harness - need to be working," he tells his all-press audience Wednesday morning.

Conan also insists that since his new show, "Conan," debuted in November, his nightly audience shouts, "Co-nan! Co-nan!" at the top of each show of their own choice, not at the prompting of the show.

"We can't seem to stop it, and it's like anything else - it's got to play itself out. Last year was a crazy journey of discovery," Conan says as the journalists take notes - and photos, and video with their cellphones.

"It has a Stalinist feeling about it. It's fun to be Mussolini at the top of the show for five minutes," Conan continues. "We certainly don't take it seriously, and I don't encourage it. But ever since Tom Hanks started all the 'Coco' thing - you really should direct your questions at him," Conan simpers. He will drop a lot more names before the Q&A is over.


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