Conan O’Brien landed a larger share of the late night audience Friday night for the host’s final appearance on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Conan nabbed a 7.0 rating for his swan song, compared to a 2.5 rating for CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman and a 2.8 for ABC’s Nightline, followed by a scant 1.3 rating for Jimmy Kimmel Live!.
The figures were up around 70 percent and the numbers from these preliminary Nielsen ratings can’t be translated yet into audience numbers.
In Conan’s teary-eyed closing remarks on the show, he thanked, truthfully, NBC for giving him a chance and for young fans to abandon cynicism. He then took off his tie and strapped on a guitar for a rendition of Freebird with Will Ferrell, Beck, Elvis Costello and members of his Tonight Show Band.
Here were his closing remarks:
Before we end this rodeo, a few things need to be said. There has been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can’t say about NBC. To set the record straight, tonight I am allowed to say anything I want. And what I want to say is this: between my time at Saturday Night Live, the Late Night show, and my brief run here on The Tonight Show, I have worked with NBC for over 20 years. Yes, we have our differences right now and yes, we’re going to go our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible.
Walking away from The Tonight Show is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Making this choice has been enormously difficult. This is the best job in the world, I absolutely love doing it, and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the medium. But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and, for seven months, I got to. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second. I’ve had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun.
And finally, I have to say something to our fans. The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the Internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational.
To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. As proof, let’s make an amazing thing happen right now.
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