BY: Lynn Elber
BURBANK, Calif. – Conan O’Brien is ready to reach out and touch the audience in his cozy new studio — if the lawyers don’t stop him.
O’Brien says he wanted an intimate atmosphere for his late-night TBS show, which launches 11 p.m. EST Monday. At NBC’s ‘Tonight Show,’ he was given a large studio that held more than 300 people. For ‘Conan,’ O’Brien is holding court in a smaller, 250-seat house and will stand about a dozen feet away from the audience during his opening monologue.
“I really want to be able to walk over and touch people, which probably I’m going to get in trouble for. I’m finding out through my lawyers that not everybody likes that,” O’Brien joked.
It was his post-’Tonight’ comedy and music tour that pointed him toward a smaller set, one that evokes the atmosphere of theater spaces in which he played nationally, O’Brien said. The audience seats are on a sharper rake, or slant, than usual to add to the studio’s theater ambiance.
“I really like the feeling of a theater and I liked the sense that the show had a `this is happening right now feel,’” O’Brien said. “Sometimes in television you can get separated from the audience, there can be a distance, kind of a ‘you all just sit back and be quiet while I do my thing.’”
Otherwise, the Warner Bros. studio is decorated talk-show traditional, with a desk for O’Brien and sofa for his guests. The set is clean and simple, with the dominant feature a nighttime seascape depicting the California coast under the glow of a full moon.
In a flip-flop from ‘Tonight,’ the ‘Conan’ show house band will be to O’Brien’s right, with guest musicians performing to his left.
The studio, with adjoining dressing rooms for O’Brien, sidekick Andy Richter and the show’s guests, was built in three months, Drew Shane, a spokesman for the show, said. That’s in contrast to the lengthy and costly construction for O’Brien’s ‘Tonight’ studio that he used for a mere seven months.
He left the show rather than move his time slot back a half hour to allow Jay Leno to return to late-night after Leno’s prime-time comedy venture flopped.
Stage 15 has a long history, starting with ‘Golddiggers of 1935.’ It’s also where the 1976 ‘A Star Is Born’ with Barbra Streisand was shot, as well as ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’
For ‘Conan,’ the Monday debut guests will be Seth Rogen, Lea Michele and Jack White.
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