Conan O'Brien simpered and preened and acted like his reps hadn't strong-armed NBC into giving him "The Tonight Show" gig, when he talked for the first time about the news that he will replace Jay Leno in five years.
"This is a huge thing for me. This is something I've dreamt about for a long time. I think people in comedy only can dream about something like this," O'Brien gushed during the taping of last night's show.
"I am incredibly humbled and thrilled to get this amazing opportunity and I did want to give my heartfelt thanks to everybody at NBC that made this possible and particularly to Jay Leno."
The night before, Leno got to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show he's propelled to No. 1 in the late-night wars for more than a decade by announcing that he is a lame duck and that O'Brien is getting the gig at the end of '09.
On "Tonight" Monday, Leno said NBC suits came back to him some time after they'd signed him to his current five-year deal, saying they did not want to lose Conan.
"What does that mean?" Leno said he responded. So they told him; they thought he should step down at the end of his new contract.
Leno went on to say he bought into the concept to avoid the kind of acrimony that surrounded his ascension to the late-night throne when Johnny Carson retired in '92, much to the surprise of David Letterman, who thought he was getting the job and who ended up going to CBS instead.
"Jay has been a big supporter of mine, a good friend to me for 11 years when I first showed up at this network," O'Brien said, sounding more and more like Eve Harrington accepting that coveted Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement in "All About Eve."
For the millions of young readers who pore over The TV Column each morning while consuming their daily ration of Cocoa Puffs, "All About Eve" is a brilliant Oscar-winning '50s flick about a conniving wannabe actress (played by Anne Baxter) who, reality TV having not yet been invented as a means to propel beautiful young women into acting careers, pretends to be a hick from the Midwest and insinuates herself into a clique of extremely successful Broadway theatrical types, led by actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis). None of them is clever enough to figure out what Eve's up to until it's too late and she steals a particularly juicy role that had been Margo's and wins the coveted Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement. Picking up the trophy, she gives a particularly treacly gushy speech, thanking her dear friend Margo, who has done so very much to advance the career of her itty-bitty self.
Which brings us back to Conan last night on "Late Night":
"He's been incredibly kind and gracious about the whole thing," O'Brien continued. "He's a class act. And so, to everybody at NBC but particularly Jay Leno -- a huge thank you and I hope I can live up to that challenge, but I have some time to figure it out."