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A No-Go For The Final Coco

P1220152Energized and inspired by attending Monday’s “I’m With Coco” rally in support for embattled Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien, I decide to give it one last and final shot by attempting to line up for standby tickets for Friday’s last and final show. After all, I had nothing scheduled until 8:30 p.m. on Friday, so staying up all night in the cold and rain wasn’t entirely out of the question.

The process is like this: You line up outside Universal Studios Gate 2 early in the morning; they hand out standby tickets for the show at 10:00 a.m., and you return that afternoon prior to the taping. You basically fill in for anyone with reserved tickets who doesn’t show, so a standby ticket isn’t a 100% guarantee to see the taping.

Someone I met at Monday’s rally told me she got into Tuesday’s show by lining up at 6:30 a.m. and managed to not only score a standby ticket, but to see the taping. I figured I can show up a little earlier and get a head start.

I arrived at aroung 5:30 a.m. after a quick 5-station subway ride on the Red Line to Universal City, I saw makeshift encampments lined up on Lankershim Blvd. on the other side of James Stewart Ave. On the corner, I asked the folks who stood there what time they got in line, “4 a.m.” they said. I took my place a few yards to the south.

I stood there with my folded umbrella, at times closing my eyes, then re-opening the umbrella when the downpour started up again. The rain wasn’t as hard as it was earlier in the week, but it was still rain. Then the sky lightened up, and the sun rose – albeit above the clouds.

At 7 a.m., the line finally moved. We crossed the street (and lucky me, I sprained my right ankle during the mass exodus, great) and entered a fenced-off area where we had to remain until 10 a.m. when the standby tickets will be distributed.

Though the rain had cleared, patches of blue and sunlight were shining in the sky, it felt somewhat colder than when I arrived. There was a bench there, but it was mostly wet. I sat in a tiny dry spot and attempted to nap in however way possible, propping myself up with a folded umbrella.

Then the moment of truth arrived.

P1220161At 10 a.m., Tonight Show staff announced that there were about 150 people in line, 100 standby tickets to be distributed, and that a standby ticket meant a “50-50 chance of seeing the taping.” And then several yards ahead of me, they announced the cutoff and that the 100th standby ticket had been distributed.

And as if on cue, it started to rain again.

I didn’t even have a chance. And the people who waited in line ahead of me at 4 a.m. didn’t even have a chance. Nor did the people who arrived at 3 a.m. I heard the early-birds got there as early as 8 p.m. on Thursday night.

The show staffers told us that just for our troubles, they would have free coffee and (80 dozen) donuts for us “in 10 minutes.” But over a half hour had passed and we were still waiting for our goodies. At that point, many of us were delusional: “Conan will come out here and give out the donuts himself, right?”

Well it wasn’t to be, although nearly all of the staffers who gave away the donuts were readheads as well. Most of the people, tickets or not, had left already and there was way more donuts than people, so folks (including myself) made off with an entire box of Krispy Kremes. Hey, it’s on NBC’s dime, after all.

Before finally leaving, I was briefly interviewed by someone from KNX 1070 Newsradio who asked everyone how they felt and whether they would “watch the new Jay Leno Tonight Show in March.” I responded with an emphatic, “HELL NO!”


I had my picture taken by the Tonight Show audience area sign, in the rain, with my consolation prize – a box of donuts.

There was another dude who was interviewed who wore a homemade t-shirt that read, “CONAN 4 PREZ.” Many people took pictures of his shirt or asked to have pics with him. As we left, we passed the audience line for The Tonight Show down the street and he was asking people if they had extra tickets. One guy had an extra ticket but was going to sell it. The t-shirt dude offered $50. The ticket guy asked for $75. The t-shirt guy accepted. He encouraged me to ask around, but I just wanted to get back on the subway and take a long-overdue nap.

It was a noble attempt. I was actually more upset the show was ending than not scoring tickets. Universal was a prime place for a taping; the entrance is so conveniently close to the Metro station, I wouldn’t need to park. I blame myself for procrastinating. Would I do this again? I would – though only if it meant I got the tickets!

Later on Friday I watched the 146th and final installment of The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien on the big screen at Chop Suey Cafe, the exact same place where I was 23 nights ago to ring in 2010. Melvin, a friend of mine who relocated to Washington, D.C. last year to work for a U.S. Congressman, had a little get-together for his Los Angeles area friends, as he was in town to be a godfather at a friend’s child’s baptism. Since there were TV screens there, I just asked them to change it to Conan and stayed to watch the show. A bunch of other Conan fans also watched as well. It was very rife with a sense of sobering finality (in an emotionally heartfelt speech) and symbolism – namely in the musical numbers — Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” and Will Ferrell – joined by the Tonight Show Band and guitarists Billy Gibbons, Beck and Ben Harper – in a rendition of Lynrd Skynrd’s rock anthem, “Freebird.”¬† Though the song lives on with a reputation as one of the most sarcastically-requested songs at concerts, the lyrics couldn’t ring more true. Written by bandmembers Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zandt as a break-up song, the lyrics fit the relationship between Conan and NBC perfectly:

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now,
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can’t change.

Bye, bye, its been a sweet love.
Though this feeling I can’t change.
But please don’t take it badly,
‘Cause Lord knows I’m to blame.
But, if I stayed here with you girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you’ll never change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can’t change.
Lord help me, I can’t change.

Here’s hoping the free bird of Conan O’Brien lands at FOX, gets a sweet deal and enjoys even a greater amount of success in a show where he doesn’t have to enter into a franchise. This time, he will create the franchise. And as for NBC retaining the show’s ‘intellectual property,’ Conan and his writing staff will have no problem at all creating new bits and characters. “Triumph The Insult Comic Dog” and “The Masturbating Bear” are still all relatively new characters in the Conan universe; as a fan since the very first Late Night With Conan O’Brien I can fondly recall “Tomorry The Ostrich” and “Polly the NBC Peacock,” long since forgotten by today’s audience and superseded by their more cruder mammal counterparts.

But until that day comes, I’ll be watching Late Show With David Letterman out of defiance starting March 1.


View more pics of my ‘Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien’ standby ticket line experience on my Flickr Photostream!

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