Late Night host Conan O'Brien owes his job to Lorne Michaels, the longtime executive producer of Saturday Night Live, but the champion who helped him keep it was Bob Wright.
“I auditioned for this job in April of 1993, and I knew nothing about corporate television. I was a writer on The Simpsons. I was very much a 'I just care about the work, man' kind of guy. I didn't read the trades and didn't know who ran the studios or the networks. Lorne had suggested that NBC take a look at me.
“After the audition, Lorne called me and said, 'Good news. Bob Wright loved your audition.' And I said, 'Who's Bob Wright?' I had no idea who he was when I auditioned for the show.”
It didn't take long for O'Brien—who graduated from Harvard in the same class as Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal's new president/CEO—to figure out who Wright was.
“Two weeks after I was announced as the replacement for David Letterman, Suzanne Wright called and said, 'I want you to be half of the entertainment at Bob's 50th birthday party.
“The other half of the entertainment that evening was Johnny Carson. I've done some scary things in my life, but that night, my heart wasn't just in my mouth; I think my heart came out of my mouth. The whole thing was absurd. I got up on stage and did this short routine. It wasn't the most hilarious five or 10 minutes I had ever done, but people liked it. Johnny came up afterwards and said, 'Good job, kid.'”
Later, when NBC wasn't sure it was going to pick up O'Brien's contract, Wright made sure O'Brien knew he was rooting for the show. “Something that made an impression on me,” O'Brien says, “was that, during my darkest days with the show, I ran into Bob at an event on the set of the Today show. He made a beeline towards me and took me aside and said, 'Nothing is more important to me than the success of your show.' He always gave me the impression that he was personally invested in my show. That meant a lot to me.”
Since then, Bob and Suzanne Wright have played an integral role in some of O'Brien's most intimate moments, including attending his wedding in Seattle and giving the priest a ride back to the East Coast in the General Electric corporate jet, and hosting a shower for the couple's baby at their Connecticut home.
“From day one, the Wrights made me feel like I was part of the team, part of the family, and, for good or ill, I was in it now.”