Bits and Pieces
The following is from a summary of a 1995 panel discussion of Late Night with Conan O'Brien at the The Museum of TV and Radio, in New York.
How to Write for Late Night
The staff WILL look at unagented submissions, but you have to write in to get the release form that says you promise not to sue anyone. You DON'T have to write out sketches. What Late Night really wants is a four-page list of about 14 comedy bit ideas. Each bit should be described in a short, concise paragraph. The Late Night folks like weird, fresh ideas that create vivid images.
Example: Jonathan Groff broke through with an idea about an a capella choir that comes on and starts singing beautiful music. Turns out the lyrics are about the singers committing heinous crimes. The punchline: "It's not about the words. It's about the melody."
Conan - You read that and you see it.
Conan - I would be suspicious of someone like me.
Identifying Good Writers
Conan - People are always asking me, 'What's the secret, what are you looking for?' You really just look for people who think differently. Robert (Smigel) and I worked very hard to select writers who just brought something different to the table, who had ideas that we hadn't seen before, that we thought were unique and a little weird.
Managing Overworked Writers
Conan talked about the fact that writers at some shows write and do nothing else. At Late Night, writers help produce their own material and get some control over how the bits turn out.
Conan - When you let someone make (material) their own, they work twice as hard. And, if you let them be responsible for it if it screws up, but also let them have the glory if it really works, that seems to be the best system.