On Monday night Late Night with Conan O’Brien trotted out the latest version of a new bit in which they smash together celebrity douchebags at high speeds in their own super collider. Two toy trains bearing the pictures of the celebs crash into each other, creating a small fire.
But that’s not what Los Angeles viewers saw. Instead, just as Conan was beginning to describe the show’s “celebrity douchebag collision” experiment, the local news cut in. Anchorwoman Colleen Williams told the audience that “right now in New York,” (Um, Colleen: the show is taped; it’s not live, particularly on the West Coast) Conan was making a joke about train collisions that they thought was inappropriate to show given the September 12 train collision that killed 25 people in California. Instead, the local affiliate, KNBC, showed portions of John McCain’s speech on the economy.
Defamer, which alerted us to this story, has the clip of what LA viewers saw.
According to KNBC, which is owned by parent company NBC Universal, they received information from Conan O’Brien’s producers about the collision sketch both prior to the September 22 episode and the first collision experiment on September 12. The station’s statement goes on to say, “Out of respect for the victims and families of the victims of the September 12th train collision in Los Angeles, where 25 members of our community lost their lives, we chose to cover the O’Brien skit on those dates. We do not intend to interrupt any further airings of the bit.”
Indeed, the entire sketch (as well as the rest of Monday night’s Late Night) is available on Hulu, and embedded below. (The “celebrity douchebag collision” bit starts at the 10:00 minute mark.) So, it seems as if KNBC’s decision was motivated mostly by the timing of the sketch, in that it was too soon after the recent fatal train collision for such a joke to be funny.
While we understand KNBC’s motivation, we do think their response was a bit unusual. Instead of simply alerting viewers to the upcoming sketch and urging them to use their own discretion, they suddenly interrupted the broadcast, preventing anyone tuning in in LA from seeing it, presumably without giving any warning about what they were doing.
Furthermore, if they were in contact with the O’Brien producers (and we’re still not sure who reached out to whom), why couldn’t they have suggested that it might be insensitive to do such a bit so close to the crash? Particularly if they ran the first edition of this sketch on September 12.
After all, Conan is moving to LA when he takes over hosting The Tonight Show next year and we doubt his willingness to be so glib about the recent train crash endears him to the people of Los Angeles, who will compose his Tonight Show audience. We also wonder if the show would have even conceived of such a joke if Conan and his team were based in LA.
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