On Thursday night's edition of "The Tonight Show," Conan O'Brien marked the penultimate episode of his brief tenure as host of the program by continuing to pull out all the stops, exiting NBC with guns blazing and bridges burning. Fresh off his newly signed exit deal (which will net him $32 million and allow him to be back on television by September), O'Brien took the hour to eviscerate the network, create yet another giant price tag for a sketch and let guests Robin Williams and Ben Stiller run roughshod.
The show opened with O'Brien announcing that he had reached an agreement with the network and that he was actually feeling melancholy about his exit. "I've been with NBC for a long time," he told the audience. "Remember 'The Cosby Show'? I was Rudy."
He started the fun with Pee-wee Herman, whom O'Brien welcomed to the show to explain the legal implications of his deal, which he illustrated as a children's story starring a giraffe (representing O'Brien) and a peacock. "One day, the peacock lost his mind and started fighting with the giraffe," Herman said. "The fight got so bad that the giraffe had to call his attorney, Optimus Prime!"
The show rolled on with another supremely expensive piece of material, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird wearing a mink coat and watching restricted NFL footage. Williams followed, spending his entire interview segment ripping on NBC. "It was seven months, so it's kind of like an annulment," Williams told O'Brien. "Except it can't be an annulment because there was sex involved: You got screwed." He wrapped up the show by singing his traditional "End of Show Song," which is not normally aired on TV.
Meanwhile, the rest of the late-night shows were squeezing the very last of the juice out of what has been an extremely intriguing two weeks of television. Jay Leno toned down his monologue a bit but still took some shots at NBC. Jimmy Fallon finally addressed the situation (though very gingerly). David Letterman continued to rip into Leno (when asked why he has been so harsh to Jay, Letterman simply quipped, "Because it's fun!"). Even Jon Stewart shouted "Team Conan!" at the close of "The Daily Show."
It all sets up Conan's "Tonight Show" finale on Friday (January 22). It will feature Will Ferrell, Tom Hanks and Neil Young, and if Thursday night was any indication, there will be plenty more shocks, surprises and more than a little bit of melancholy in store.