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If puzzled fans of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” think last week’s shows felt like a really long TV commercial for Toronto, they are right.
In a bold product-placement deal, city burghers dished out $750,000 for NBC to shoot four “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” shows in and around Toronto, with an on-set wooden desk engraved with maple leaves and the Canadian National Tower and the SkyDome hovering prominently on the starry-night mural backdrop.
The mission: Let O’Brien bat around Canadiana icons like cat toys while unwittingly drawing American tourists back to Toronto — SARS be damned.
So in one prerecorded film skit, O’Brien, dressed as a dapper Mountie, poses with Japanese tourists and smiles into the camera as (oops!) the camera lingers on Niagara Falls in the background.
In another sketch, a wobbly O’Brien plays hockey with four Toronto Maple Leafs, even dropping the gloves with team enforcer Tie Domi, and (wink! wink!) you’ve got an integrated marketing campaign for the NHL.
Some Canadian politicians were forced to apologize after series regular Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in one comedy sketch took aim at Quebec and its French-speaking culture. But otherwise, the media gushed and the city burghers beamed over the good civic karma.
It’s only TV. But it works.
Canadians proud to support TorontoCanadian Mike Myers, who drinks Heineken in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” had no problem serving as frontman for a post-SARS Toronto, peppering his doughnut-shop banter with references to back-bacon sandwiches and “a Scarborough suitcase” — a 24-pack of beer.
“Get me a translator!” O’Brien pleaded, suddenly looking like a moose caught in the headlights.
Canadians Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox and Eric McCormack were also happy to shill for Toronto.
American viewers must have been scratching their heads and searching for the clicker when O’Brien, attempting to capture all Canadian cliches in one image, introduced a mountie with a hockey stick covered in back bacon skating on stage around a giant igloo made out of beer cans.
During a raucous reception at the C Lounge following the first night of taping, O’Brien received a personalized Maple Leafs jersey from Toronto Mayor David Miller, as the two faced shrieking partygoers chanting “Go, Leafs! Go!”
The folks of Toronto have reason to cheer. An appearance on a late-night U.S. talker has always been the brass ring of Canadian comedy.
You could almost hear Lorne Michaels, the Toronto-born “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” creator and exec producer who masterminded the week’s post-SARS rescue effort, muttering back in Manhattan: “Beauty, eh?”