'Poonster Gets the Last Laugh

Once panned by critics, Harvard grad makes it big

Conan C. O'Brien '85 has made a career out of proving people wrong.

When "Late Night" producer Lorne Michaels, the mastermind behind "Saturday Night Live," tapped the unknown comedy writer to replace the legendary David Letterman, few thought he'd last long.

And when his show debuted in 1993 to lousy ratings and lousier reviews, most thought O'Brien's days in NBC's 12:35 time slot were numbered.

Many TV critics, such as The Washington Post's Tom Shales, quickly called for O'Brien's head.

To Shales, the 6 foot 4 inch comic was the weak link in what could otherwise be a decent program.

"Subtract this fidgety marionette from the Lorne Michaels production, and you have a fairly handsome talk show package waiting for a real entertainer to step in," wrote Shales just two days after the new host's debut.

And there were many alternative late night hosts waiting in the wings: Tom Snyder, Jon Stewart, Greg Kinnear.

Nearly seven years later, O'Brien is still on the air, and Tom Shales is singing a different tune.