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Conan can't shake off rocky start as host

Published: Monday, July 27 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

When Conan O'Brien became host of NBC's "Late Night," he didn't exactly set the world on fire. The early days of his reign were marked by terrible reviews and worse ratings.

But O'Brien seems to have righted the ship, with a big increase in both quality and ratings. However, he's resigned to the fact that people are always going to remember those dark early days of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien.""I've often thought - what if I saved the Earth from a comet?" O'Brien said. "I get on a ship, I get to the comet, I explode the asteroid and save the Earth from annihilation and then return to Earth.

"The headline is going to be, `Conan saves Earth from asteroid after rocky start.' "

Not that he's bitter about it or anything.

"I've decided to just say, `Oh, what the (heck),' " O'Brien said. "That's going to be in my obituary no matter what happens."

- HUH? - Former Beachboy Brian Wilson certainly isn't shy about his own musical genius, given the fact that he seems to refer to himself as such with some frequency. But the man who wrote most of the band's biggest hits does have some degree of modesty when it comes to calling the group "America's greatest band," as some have.

"I would never consider the Beach Boys to be America's greatest band," Wilson said. "I think the Rolling Stones have earned the right to be America's greatest band, too."

Well, maybe, if not for the fact that the Stones are a BRITISH band.

- ASK A SILLY QUESTION: Wilson, who had more than his share of drug problems, said he was saved by a strict diet and exercise regimen. So, one critic inquired, what music does he listen to when he's ex-er-cising.

"I don't listen to music while I exercise," Wilson said. "No, I listen to it when I'm not exercising. But it's a good idea except that, you see, I swim now, so there's no way to listen to music while you're swimming."

- SOUNDS OF SILENCE: One of the characters in "Jesse" is the title character's silent older brother. That's right, he doesn't speak at all.

And, as odd as that sounds, creator/executive producer Ira Ungerleider insists the character is based on a member of his own family.

"I have an older brother who really just doesn't participate at all, much to my parents' chagrin. And he hardly ever speaks," Ungerleider said. "And when he does, it's only with the shortest, most efficient answers possible. That's where I got it from."

So, does his big brother know that there's a sitcom character based on him coming to NBC?

"Yes, he does - and he has nothing to say about it," Ungerleider said.

- LOST CARTOON? Would you believe that there's a missing episode of the Cartoon Network's hit cartoon "Dexter's Laboratory?"

Well, not exactly lost - but sort of hidden. Because it's sort of inappropriate for the channel's young view-ers.

"Dexter's trying to get the rudeness out of Dee Dee and so he creates the rude removal system," said animator Genndy Tartakovsky in describing the episode. "But they kind of get stuck in it together, and they create clones of themselves, which are rude. And we had them swear, but we had beeps over the swearing. So I think that's one that you can only catch at some festivals and stuff. But not on the air."

Well, probably not.

"I still think it's very funny," said Linda Semansky, vice president of original programs for the Cartoon Network. "It probably would air better late at night."

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