Late Night With Conan O'Brien has been a comedy staple of night owls since 1993. The main man behind the show was practically a comedic veteran upon its premiere, having written and produced work for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live in the 1980s and early 1990s (all of this before celebrating his 30th birthday!). Since the very first season of Late Night, it's proven to be one of the best shows on television at any timeslot, and has enjoyed more than its fair share of memorable moments and characters.
The reasons for the success of the show---and this holds true for any example of the genre---are the charisma of the host and the strength of the writing. Fortunately, Late Night passes with flying colors in all categories, especially in regards to the main man himself. Conan himself might not seem like your typical television host: with a lanky 6'5" stature, pale complexion, and easily recognizable red hair, he certainly doesn't fit the typical appearance of most TV personalities. He regularly dwarfs his guests on nearly every occasion (even Mr. T, seen below), but never seems intimidating or overbearing. His laid-back, casual persona gives the show a relaxed undercurrent, but his occasional wild mood swings (from dry humor to outright slapstick) add a much-needed sense of unpredictability.
Not to be ignored is the strength of the writing itself, as Late Night has had some great moments over the years. As with all shows, it took a bit of time to pick up steam, but the past few years have seen growing ratings for Conan and the introduction of some truly classic characters. The most successful of these, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, has even gotten his own album and DVD release (the review link is below). Still, this is Conan's show, and 2003 marked the ten year anniversary of Late Night. Obviously, a celebration was in order, and the full 90 minute special even got its own prime time spot for the evening! Featuring loads of guest stars, a great mix of classic clips, and even the return of Conan's talented former co-host, Andy Richter, The 10th Anniversary Special had all the importance of an awards show with 70% less ego. It was a great tribute to an awesome ten years, and it's now on DVD for your viewing pleasure!
Although the special itself runs for just over an hour (without commercials, of course), it's literally jam-packed with laughs. After a remarkably long standing ovation for our esteemed host, Conan takes the initiative by introducing tons of clip montages featuring memorable moments from 1993 and beyond. Tom Hanks, David Letterman (seen below in a very early show), Harrison Ford, and many more have graced the set of Late Night over the years, and have been responsible for some truly classic moments. A number of guest stars even pop up in the studio audience and on stage, including the likes of Jack Black (who graces the audience with a commemorative song) and a very cynical Ben Stiller.
While this celebration doesn't exactly break the mold in all regards, it serves its purpose well: by doing a great job of paying tribute to the show over the last decade, and keeping things moving with several entertaining live segments. It's a very breezy 60 minutes, and the pacing of the show really keeps the attention of the viewer. The only minor complaint (other than the fact the the show wasn't at least two hours) is that a few segments obviously seem rushed for time, especially the introduction of the show's most memorable characters. In hindsight, it seems more like an introductory roll call, rather than a real chance to give these characters something to do.
Even with a few shortcomings, there's a lot to like about The 10th Anniversary Special, as its overall charm and entertainment value really makes for a great main event on DVD. Brought to us by Lions Gate Home Entertainment, this tribute special features a decent technical presentation and a small (but appropriate) set of extras. This disc also shares a release date with the aforementioned Best of Triumph DVD (for obvious reasons), and here's hoping there's much more of Conan in the years to come. With that said, let's see how this one stacks up:
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in its original 4:3 fullscreen aspect ratio, The 10th Anniversary Special looks about as good as fans could hope for. Clarity and sharpness are at or above the level of the original television broadcasts (although some earlier episode clips pale in comparison), and colors generally appear bold and bright. While there was a bit of edge enhancement detected (a little more noticeable in close-up shots, especially on the older footage), the overall quality of this transfer is perfectly fine. The audio (presented in Dolby Surround) also shares the same above-average quality as the video itself, and does its job adequately. You're not likely to use this disc as demo material anytime soon, but it should easily satisfy any respectable fan of TV on DVD.
Menu Design & Presentation:
Featuring colorful, fun menus that emulate the look of the set design, the presentation for The 10th Anniversary Special is well-executed. The basic layout is simple, offering smooth navigation for the main and sub-menus alike. The 60 minute main program is divided into 9 chapters, and no layer change was detected. Bonus feature sub-sections are simply presented, and also include a handy "Play All" option. Surprisingly, subtitles are also included, but only in Spanish. The packaging was not on hand for this review, but will most likely feature a similar design and layout to the main menu (seen above).
Although the included bonus features seemed a little slim on the whole, it's great to have anything extra. Divided into four sections---"Comedy Shorts", "Favorite Guest Moments", Conan on Location", and a "Behind the Scenes Gallery"---each one is fairly self explanatory. In the first section, we're treated to a series of bonus clips that include Late Night TV Commercial, Alone, Stereotypes on Dirt Bikes, Joel's Oscar Night, Clive Clemmons' Inappropriate Response Channel, Conan on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, Max Weinberg's PSA, and Bob Dole Clutch Cargo. Amusing bits to be sure, but why not include more? These brief segments only run a total of 5 minutes in all, and there's tons more material that deserves to be in here. The next section shares the same problem---clocking in at just over 3 minutes---and includes guest appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Malkovich, Will Ferrell, Larry Brown, Courtney Thorne-Smith, and LL Cool J. All are great, but it's a shame that more (or just longer) clips couldn't have been added to the mix.
Moving on, the third section---and easily the longest---follows Conan on a few adventures outside the studio (including Famous Helping People, Conan in Ireland, Conan Visits LA Actresses, and Dudez a Plenti. Clocking in at roughly 40 minutes, this is a little closer to what I was hoping for (especially after digging through the extras on the Best of Triumph disc!). The fourth and final section is a nice Photo Gallery of some great moments on and off the set, and was a pleasant surprise to page through.
Although I could offer a few complaints about the overall length of the bonus features (just under an hour in all), they're all great moments that are better to have than not. It's a shame, though: with the smaller lineup of extras, this disc almost seems like part of a larger release, or even a bonus disc for a future "Best Of" boxed set. I'd have also loved to see a few more traditional extras, especially some sort of commentary by Conan (either during the special, or the extra clips). After all, if he can contribute a commentary track to The Simpsons, why not this release as well?
In most areas, The 10th Anniversary Show was a fairly satisfying release, based on the strength of the show and the decent technical presentation by Lions Gate. While the bonus features may be a little slim for most DVD fanatics, this is still a solid release for any fan of great comedy. Obviously, fans of Conan will want to pick this one up, but Late Night rookies might want to give this a rent first---you're likely to miss out on a few of the inside jokes, but it's still a worthwhile hour of laughs. Overall, this disc stands proudly alongside The Best of Triumph as a great package at a very reasonable price, and that's what makes this worth hunting down. Recommended.
Other Links of Interest
Conan O'Brien Fimography at IMDb
The Official Site of Triumph: Come Poop With Me
DVD Talk Review of The Best of Triumph
Randy Miller III is a comedy lovin' art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.