Even when he was a struggling writer for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” trying to fill a summer with a stage show in Chicago to hone his craft even more, Conan O’Brien knew he was destined for late-night television.
But when it came time for him to take on even a pretend microphone at a pretend desk, who did he emulate? Johnny Carson? David Letterman? Art Linkletter?
No. It was none other than “Star Trek” legend George Takei.
In his new book, “The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy,” author Bill Carter said O’Brien got the idea to create a scenario where Takei replaced Joan Rivers on Fox’s ill-fated late-night lineup, and was only able to bring on one guest — fellow writer Jeff Garlin, who was staying with O’Brien in Chicago during that summer in 1988.
The show would’ve been called “Wild Blue Yonder,” but was never intended to go anywhere further than the living room where O’Brien was staying and a way to pass the time on sweltering summer evenings in Chicago.
“They created an ersatz set with host base behind a coffee table and guest on the couch,” according to the book, which chronicles the NBC debacle last spring between O’Brien and Jay Leno over the “Tonight Show” job. “Almost every night they would fall into doing the show. Conan as George Takei would ask Garlin about his act and touring … Garlin would go along for a time, but eventually, he would come around to asking Takei about those residuals from ‘Star Trek:’ And how were they coming along?”
That would where the bit would take off, Carter said, with O’Brien — as Takei — first trying to change the subject, but slowly becoming “agitated and then bitter about how he was cheated on his residuals.”
The nightly exercise wasn’t enough to convince Garlin that O’Brien would make a good late-night talk show host, mostly because he saw more of the Takei character than O’Brien himself. “But he was blown away by Conan’s comedy mind,” Carter wrote.
“Wild Blue Yonder” ended the same time summer did, with O’Brien and Garlin heading back to New York City to continue work on a new season of “Saturday Night Live.” But that didn’t stop O’Brien from giving Takei a proper departure.
“Again, Takei tried to explore the homey details of Garlin’s emerging showbiz career, but as soon as Jeff went into the indignity of those missing residuals, it proved too much for George Takei,” according to the book. “He howled to the moon and committed seppuku [Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment] on the spot.”
Carter’s book is on shelves now, and the real Takei has his own funny side. See what he thinks about a school board member who reportedly encouraged gay students to take their own lives by clicking here.