The Ted Koppel who showed up to Conan O’Brien’s show recently was not what you’d expect from someone of his stature and import. Koppel was funny, slightly awkward and a bit goofy.
The first thing he said upon greeting O’Brien was “You’re goin’ down.” It seems he threw the gauntlet down to O’Brien when, during the writers strike, O’Brien aired writer-less shows (to which Koppel commented, “I noticed that!”) and desperately started spinning his wedding ring on his desk. A distraction Koppel claims to have been doing since “Conan was running coffee for the editor of the Harvard Lampoon.” Koppel said as much in a magazine article and challenged the talk show host to The North American Wedding Ring Spin-off saying if Conan loses, “he’s gonna have to promote my China series every night it’s on. If I lose…well, I don’t intend to lose.”
He even chided O’Brien saying, “Are we using the piss ant desk?”
So, off they went to a boxing ring set up with ropes, a desk and two chairs…oh and even a bikini-clad round/card girl, who would later be blamed for the loser’s failure. And that loser was… Koppel. The stunt went well and the audience loved it.
After the break, they spent the rest of the time discussing Koppel on Discovery – The People’s Republic of Capitalism. The series sounds very interesting, partly because it is and partly because Koppel made it so by talking to O’Brien, making eye contact and engaging him in conversation, which, in turn, made O’Brien behave more maturely than usual. Koppel then flipped the frame by getting bleeped while talking about Chinglish signs in China and how they are not well translated. One in particular was about things that happen in a bathroom. “The irony is I bring you on this show to class it up,” Conan retorted. “And it’s my opportunity to come down to my natural level,” Koppel replied.
And that’s how you felt watching him. He was having fun, being a regular guy and making what could have been a yawner, appealing. Not the typical newsman.