Whether you’re a regular viewer of late night talk shows or not, the news coming out of NBC’s late night block this month has been inescapable. Last year, as the economy and credit markets were crumbling, the network made drastic changes to their prime-time schedule as comedian Jay Leno moved from the venerable “The Tonight Show” weeknights at 11:35 PM to a new variety program at 10:00 PM, paving the way for long time “Late Night” host Conan O’Brien to become the new host of “The Tonight Show.” It was presented by NBC executives as a forward thinking and necessary cost cutting move considering the economic challenges everyone was facing at the time.
It was also a dramatic failure. The 10:00 Leno show bled viewers profusely from its launch, killing the lead in for the late local news and for “The Tonight Show.” Something had to be done quickly. Just four months after its start, “The Jay Leno Show” was cancelled, but soon thereafter the controversy really began. A plan was presented by NBC in which Leno would host a half hour program at 11:35, followed by “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” at 12:05. Conan, or Coco as his fans affectionately call him, would have nothing to do with it.
A war of words and press releases followed and all of the late night talk shows – not just Leno and O’Brien – joined in on the NBC bashing fun. Viewers took sides, with Conan O’Brien receiving the majority of the support in this online battle.
Ultimately, NBC brought Leno back to “The Tonight Show” and struck a multi-million dollar deal with O’Brien to leave the network and stay off the air until this fall. O’Brien’s last night as “The Tonight Show” host is today, January 22nd, only 7 months after he began.
One of the most visible ways O’Brien fans showed support for the red-headed comedian began on January 11th, when a stylized portrait of O’Brien with the words “I’m With Coco” printed underneath spread virally across the Internet via Twitter and Facebook at a fast pace.
The portrait was a product of artist Mike Mitchell, who made the piece to show his support for O’Brien. The Los Angeles-based artist even held a rally outside the NBC/Universal in support of his favorite late night host. CBR News caught up with Mitchell to find out more about the image, its rapid spread on the Internet and his connection to comic books.
Mike, thanks for talking with us today. Let's start with that which is garnering you so much attention right now – “I'm With Coco.” At what point and why did you decide, "I have to make this"?
Well I've been a huge fan of Conan for such a long time, and as the situation started to present itself I felt a strong urge to take a stance. Creating the poster was the best way for me to express my support as an artist.
Talk a bit about it's construction - how long did it take? What was your medium? What were the tools used?
Well I thought about it for a long time, researched a lot of propaganda posters, and when I had a general idea I rain with it. That was January 11th. It took about 4-5 hours maybe and came together very organically. The "I'm with Coco" tag came together at the end. Like most of my work, I painted it in Photoshop using my Wacom Cintiq.
Has there been any official reaction from Conan's camp?
They have been very thankful for all the support this has created. I actually got invited to come hang out to “The Tonight Show” offices/studio yesterday [Thursday] and meet the whole crew including Conan. It was really a dream come true being such a fan of the show.
The image spread very quickly online -- I started seeing it as Twitter and Facebook icons immediately. Did its acceptance far and wide surprise you? What do you think spurred this reaction and do you know how it started to spread?
Yeah, I'm not sure exactly but I think it took about 12 hours to go completely viral. I made it with the hopes that maybe it would gain some support for Conan and his crew, finished it at about 1am, posted it on Twitter, woke up and it was everywhere. I believe it was originally spread by Paul F Tompkins and Patton Oswalt and from there it grew like a wild fire. No idea how it landed in their hands though.
You're offering up prints for charity? Tell us a bit about that as well as the response at your last minute signing at Golden Apple Comics in Hollywood last Saturday.
I'm selling shirts and prints at http://imwithcoco.com and a bit from each sale goes to Haitian relief, and I'm also putting some stuff together on the side, like a charity comedy event at Comix NY on Jan 28th which benefits Haiti as well. Dave Attell and some other great comedians have already been booked. It will be a fun night of Leno fueled jokes and it will raise a ton of money for charity!
The signing started as me asking Ryan [Liebowitz, Golden Apple Comics co-owner] if he wanted to sell some posters, which eventually turned into him asking me to come in for a signing. I've never had a signing at all, so when I showed up and the place was full, I was a bit overwhelmed. I kind of threw up in my mouth a little bit.
I know it's only been out there for a short while, but this certainly seems to have brought a lot of attention your way – is this piece opening new doors for you?
As an artist, it’s a dream come true! It's not every day you create a piece of art that gets this much attention, I'm still kind of in shock by it. Its definitely opening up some doors for me and I'm really interested to see where it goes.
With "Coco" moving on from NBC and likely to land on the air somewhere else again in eight months, do you have any plans right now to follow this portrait up with another? And hey, don't you think Andy Richter deserves some love, too? You don’t want to make Andy sad.
Ha! Maybe for Andy, who doesn't love him? Who knows what I will be doing, but if I can think of something that I think will catch on, I might give it a shot, but I have already taken a full dose of reality in realizing that I will most likely never create another image that will reach this level popularity. It's started a whole movement!
Since we're a comics site, have to ask a comics question – are you a comics reader and/or have an interest in illustrating a comic yourself? It's clear you have the chops, the question is do you have the interest?
Oh I LOVE comics. I have a little bit of a comic collection that started from when I was a kid, and was pieced together over the years. I think my most prized comic is “Uncanny X-Men” #7. It’s not in the best condition, but I still love it. When I was younger, up until a couple of years ago I had a real desire to be a comic cover artist, but somewhere down the line fell more in love with the pop culture side of things. I am good pals with Adi Granov, who is an amazing artist, and I can't help but be jealous of the awesomeness that he gets to participate in on a regular basis. Still, I hope one day I can illustrate a cover for Spider-Man, Batman, Hellboy, etc.. That would definitely be another dream come true.
The final episode of "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" airs tonight at 11:35 PM on NBC. For more on Mitchell, check out his web site at http://www.sirmikeofmitchell.com/