Conan O'Brien's Last Tonight Show & Famous Guests on Stamps


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist & Adam M. Rosenfeld, Web Team Intern, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Refer to caption
Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno

Tonight, January 22, 2010, will be Conan O’Brien’s final performance as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, marking the end of a controversial ordeal between the late night host, Jay Leno, and NBC.

The Tonight Show is one of the longest running and most famous television programs of all time. It's first three long-running hosts, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson elevated the show to the top of American television between 1954 and 1992.

John F. Kennedy stamp and Bob Hope stamp
© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.
Jack Benny stamp and Abott and Costello stamp
© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.

Many famous people have been on the show as guests and later were honored on U.S. postage stamps including then Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy (appeared with Jack Paar in 1960), and comedians Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Bud Abbott.

In 2009, O’Brien took over the post at The Tonight Show after Leno stepped down last year. However, it became apparent that Leno would not ride off into the sunset quietly. At the time he stepped down, Leno was still receiving phenomenal ratings, so NBC gave him the freedom of an hour long comedy show before O’Brien. Now, O’Brien has been forced out and Leno is taking The Tonight Show back.

One could view this “Late Night War” as a debacle for NBC, or as a ratings gold mine. Not only did removing Leno in the first place lead to lower ratings for both Leno and O’Brien, but filling the soon to be void 10pm time slot left by Leno could cost the network millions of dollars.

Despite obviously being treated unfairly, O’Brien has taken the controversy in stride, not ever holding back when the chance to slam NBC arises. Recently on The Tonight Show, O’Brien made fun of the network for their poor investment in the Winter Olympics, a venture predicted to lose NBC millions. O’Brien has also taken full advantage of NBC’s obligation to pay for his every whim on the show. He recently showcased a Bugatti Veyron, the most expensive consumer car in existence, dressed as a mouse. He also had Kentucky Derby winner “Mine That Bird” dressed in a mink “snuggie” as a guest on a show. If anything is certain, O’Brien has not stepped out of the spotlight without a fight.

Putting the current controversy aside, during the 1980s NBC was home to one of television’s most successful sitcom, “Cheers.” The National Postal Museum’s collection contains the postal uniform worn by the “Cheers” character Cliff Clavin on the show. While wearing the uniform, actor John Ratzenberger was nominated for Emmys for “Outstanding Support Actor in a Comedy Series” in 1985 and 1986.


Alex Haimann

About the Author
Alexander T. Haimann, Collections Specialist & Web Projects Developer at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, collects and writes primarily about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the first one hundred years of stamp production (1847-1947). Additionally, he develops internet based education projects and exhibits for the National Postal Museum. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Chair of the American Philatelic Society’s Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship and the publicist for the United State Philatelic Classics Society. His national and international society memberships include the American Philatelic Society, United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and the Royal Philatelic Society London.