Exactly 25 years ago today, NBC gave one of its coveted late-night hosting slots to a complete Hollywood unknown, with only a few TV series’ writing credits to his name. That man, Conan O’Brien, celebrated the milestone on Thursday by posting his debut NBC episode on YouTube in its entirety—and promising more to come.
The 38-minute video, scrubbed of its original ads and apparently dubbed from NBC’s master tapes, includes a brief caption that hints to a huge archive project. “Coming January 2019: The complete online archive of Conan’s 25 years in late night,” the caption reads.
The announcement does not include clarification of exactly where this video archive will be hosted, which could prove slightly complicated since that 25-year span includes work for both NBC (a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast) and TBS (a wholly owned subsidiary of Turner). Whether that means the full archive will land on a network-specific video hub, on YouTube, or on O’Brien’s own Team Coco site remains to be seen, as the announcement didn’t include further details. [Update, 11:13 a.m. ET: O’Brien has since added that the archive will land on “a brand new web site.”]
Further complicating matters is the fact that many episodes of NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien and TBS’ Conan include musical guests. It’s unclear whether those performances will be posted in the archive or if licensing fees for song performances will restrict their sharing. The 1993 pilot episode in question, conveniently enough, does not include a musical act; instead, it features interviews with John Goodman, Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall. (O’Brien himself ends the pilot by singing a bizarre and hilarious lullaby as a lead-in to the follow-up show on NBC at the time, Later with Bob Costas. Poor Bob.)
[Update 2, 2:27 p.m. ET: A Team Coco representative declined to answer Ars Technica’s questions about the video archive, other than to describe the project as a “work in progress” at this point. We were told a “full announce” would come later this year.]
Still, this pilot episode landing on O’Brien’s YouTube channel, complete with NBC’s original logos and copyright notices (along with a ton of familiar faces) is a good sign that the “complete online archive” promise won’t be held up by a network brouhaha. The 38-minute episode also offers an interesting look at O’Brien and Andy Richter’s immediate chemistry so long ago, albeit with a pinch of adorable anxiety. (Highlights include Tom Brokaw joke-threatening O’Brien’s life in the opening bit.)
Few other TV series enjoy this kind of “complete online archive” access, at least outside of paid services. South Park used to be the exception, but its formerly free full episode archive has become more restricted in recent years, as visitors to SouthParkStudios.com are now encouraged to subscribe to Hulu to get full access to the series’ 21 seasons.
Last year, musician Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) announced a similar surprise-online-archive project by debuting a new site dedicated to his recording output since his career began in 1991. That archive still includes unlimited free streaming access to any album, EP, and single recorded under his various monikers.