Sona Movsesian at the end of Conan’s “Tonight Show”
Any ardent, longtime Conan O’Brien follower probably knows and loves Sona Movsesian, the late-night host’s personal assistant who became a sidekick and a comic in his podcasts and pre-recorded. Conan segments. But she’s still O’Brien’s assistant, a job she loves and keeps although she doesn’t do it well or with great effort, as her loose, charming working memoirs detail. and fun. The worst assistant in the world.
A memoir of showbiz and a collection of stories about life in the trenches of the underbelly of Hollywood underlings, Movsesian is admittedly lazy, forgetful and unrepentant, unwilling to stress over the mundane details of a job. . She also works for an absolute legend in O’Brien, seemingly an easy and forgiving boss who cooks up light Movsesian teases and takes them back.
If you’ve ever wondered how someone as hilariously anti-work as Movsesian got his job and what his whole business is or if you’ve wanted to hear the daily behind-the-scenes details of the various late-night talk shows d ‘O’Brien is the book for that with lots of advice on how to be a bad assistant and how to deal with bosses, bad and good. O’Brien probably falls into the latter category. In this excerpt from The worst assistant in the worldshe helps protect him from the unwanted attention of the paparazzi during the very public and highly controversial disappearance of his Tonight’s show–hospitality.
I had been working for Conan for nearly a year when it learned there would be changes to the late-night lineup — and that the network was considering putting Jay Leno back in the 11:35 p.m. slot. Jay had embarked on a misguided 10 p.m. show that flopped, and because of his contract, NBC realized it would be more profitable to keep him on the air. Their proposed solution was to give him a half-hour show at 11:35 p.m., which was coincidentally the same time as The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. It would push The show tonight to a start time of 00:05, removing the literal meaning of “tonight”.
What followed was the most inspiring, moving, frustrating and educational moment of my career.
Inspirational because of the overwhelming support Conan and the show received from his audience. Conan’s fan base has always been ardent, and they popped up when we all needed them most. I knew he was loved before I started working for him, but I didn’t realize how much I was loved until then.
Emotion because nobody knew what was going to happen. So many of my colleagues on the show had moved their whole lives from New York to California to work on a show that now faced uncertainty. We were also overwhelmed with the love we were receiving not only from fans, but also from network and press allies.
It was a frustrating time because I had worked for the network’s publicity department before I started working for Conan, and I suspected that they were the source of so much misleading information coming out in the press. It was shocking to think that some of the people I worked with might now be the ones trying to disparage my new boss with planted stories and anonymous quotes.
And the time was educational because, until that moment, I was sheltered from the ugliness of television. I never really saw the unforgiving underbelly that existed beneath the flowery surface – the dynamics I knew were there but naively believed I would never have to see. I’ve seen people I work with on a daily basis take sides. I also came to think that maybe Jay Leno wasn’t the nice guy I thought he was. The man who always bragged about not having an agent or a manager was now teaching me how important it was to have an agent or a manager. I couldn’t believe how much someone who had hosted The show tonight for 17 years seemed to concern the show moved half an hour later. Didn’t he also think it was a terrible idea? Or was he so desperate to get the show back that he would stop at nothing for the timeslot? I no longer knew what to think. All I knew was that I was disappointed.
I tried to focus on the positives. Some would think my favorite memory from that time was the support from our fanbase or the show’s inspired writing over the past two weeks or the outpouring of support from some big names that ended The Tonight Show Starring Conan O’Brien so memorable.
But my favorite moments have nothing to do with all that. When Conan’s name was given even more prominence, the press wanted to catch a glimpse of him outside the studio. They started waiting for him down the street from his house. He didn’t like all the attention, especially at a time when there was so much uncertainty surrounding his career, so he asked me to drive him to work. Why me? Easy. Because no one would believe that he, Conan O’Brien, would drive around Los Angeles in a white 2007 Volkswagen Jetta. He was right. For two weeks, I drove from Pasadena to Brentwood, picked up Conan, and drove us both to work. Not a single member of the paparazzi knew where he was going. We drove straight through the crowd of photographers, and I parked in his place at the studio like a baller with him crouched in the back seat so no one would see him.
My other favorite moment happened very late in the evening when we were all waiting for Conan’s release contract with NBC to be ready to be signed.
Conan’s office was on one side of the hallway, and executive producer Jeff Ross’ office was on the other. In between was a conference room that was usually used for meetings, but for those two weeks it was used as a war room by an army of well-dressed lawyers who negotiated with NBC around the clock.
The night after his last show, Conan was in his office with me and Rick Rosen, his longtime agent. We were waiting for the contract to be concluded. It was tense, to say the least.
We had nothing to do, so we started flipping through the channels, and came across what was one of my favorite shows at the time – bad girls club.
bad girls club was a show on Oxygen that explored the lives of women who were… to put it delicately… easily triggered. The show took women and made them live together in a house, then filmed everything that happened. It was The real world featuring seven women with healthy temperaments and libidos. They fought, they met strangers and each other, and they partied. If I could have an alter ego, it would be a Bad Girl of the Bad Girls Club.
I exploited Conan’s vulnerable moment and used it as an opportunity to catch up on this insane reality show. Conan, Rick and I sat there without speaking. Conan and Rick were contemplating the next career move for Conan. I was thinking about how the Saddle Ranch on Sunset Boulevard was just as trashy as it was when my friends and I had been there five years earlier. Together we watched these seven women fight and meet strangers for hours, until a lawyer walked into Conan’s office and told him it was time. The lawyer presented the release contract for Conan to sign, and just like that, Conan ended his time with the network he had been a part of for over 16 years.
To this day I can’t watch bad girls club without thinking about that night – waiting with his powerful agent for a pivotal moment in my boss’s career to occur watching seven women fight in a Hollywood nightclub.
At that point, I could have encouraged some thought, or better yet, I could have left Rick and Conan alone. There was so much on their minds, and I’m sure it didn’t help that I sat between them and made them watch a show that had the opposite of a calming effect. I could have done better. But I love this show.
Of The worst assistant in the world, by Sona Movsesian, to be published July 19, 2022 by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Sona Movsesian.