A brief ray of ginger-haired sunshine tonight, in a world of cancellations, postponements, and other deferrals triggered by the COVID-19 crisis: Conan O’Brien will soon be coming back to TV. THR reports that O’Brien is set to make his return to his TBS series Conan on March 30, although in a significantly altered form: Shot from an iPhone, sans audience, and with guests coming in via a video feed. It’s not clear yet whether O’Brien himself will be filming the show from home or the studio, although a press release does state the show’s production staff will all be working remotely.
It’s been a week or so now since pretty much every late-night talk show shut down production, prompted by worries about bringing too many people together in one space in order to film. The shut-down lined up with planned hiatuses for most of the series, although O’Brien’s is the first to formally announce it’ll be returning on the previously planned date. It’s clearly a very weird time for live television, and one that’s going to see a lot of experimentation and potential failures before people figure out a format that works. (Meanwhile, it’s mostly been an excuse for hosts to figure out exactly where they land on the YouTube star spectrum.)
But it’s also worth remembering that, out of all the current late night hosts, no one is better than Conan at thriving when his back is supposedly up against the wall. His run of episodes during the 2008's writer’s strike is well-remembered for its commitment to engaging in frivolous, wonderful bullshit in front of a national audience, and his final run on The Tonight Show is the stuff of “Hey, fuck you guys” legend. In other words, this is exactly the sort of format-trashing challenge he seemingly loves to overcome, and frankly, we can’t wait to see what sort of nonsense he and his iPhone get up to in the months to come. If nothing else, his sense of humor is still intact; in writing the statement about the show’s return, he glibly noted, “The quality of my work will not go down because technically that’s not possible.”