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Conan O'Brien

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Conan Christopher O'Brien (born April 18, 1963)[1] is a Roman Catholic American television host and comedian. He was the host of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, a late-night talk show that aired Monday through Friday on NBC. Before The Tonight Show, O'Brien was well-known as the host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien from 1993 to 2009.[2] Prior to his hosting career, O'Brien was a writer for Saturday Night Live and the animated series The Simpsons.

Early life

O'Brien was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, the son of Ruth (née Reardon), an attorney, and Thomas O'Brien, a physician, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard.[3][4][5] He is the third of six children. O'Brien's family was Irish Catholic and descended from pre-Civil War era immigrants;[5] In a Late Night episode, O'Brien paid a visit to County Kerry, Ireland, where his ancestors originated.

O'Brien attended Brookline High School, where he served as the managing editor of the school newspaper.[5] After graduating as valedictorian in 1981, he entered Harvard University.[6] At Harvard, O'Brien lived in Holworthy Hall during his freshman year,[7] and Mather House during his three upper-class years. He graduated magna cum laude in 1985 with an A.B. in History and Literature. His senior thesis concerned the use of children as symbols in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.[8] Throughout college, O'Brien was a writer for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. During his sophomore and junior years, he served as the Lampoon's president. He has been a staunch Democrat since casting his first vote for President in 1984 for Walter Mondale.[5]


Television writer

O'Brien moved to Los Angeles after graduation to join the writing staff of HBO's Not Necessarily the News.[9] He spent two years with that show and performed regularly with improvisational groups, including The Groundlings. In January 1988, Saturday Night Live's executive producer Lorne Michaels hired O'Brien as a writer. During his three years on SNL, he wrote such recurring sketches as "Mr. Short-Term Memory" and "The Girl Watchers," the latter of which was first performed by Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz.[10] O'Brien also co-wrote the sketch "Nude Beach" with Robert Smigel, a sketch in which the word "penis" was said or sung at least forty-two times. While on a writers' strike from Saturday Night Live following the 1987-1988 season, O'Brien put on an improvisational comedy revue in Chicago, with fellow SNL writers Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel called, Happy Happy Good Show. While living in Chicago, O'Brien briefly was roommates with Jeff Garlin.[11] In 1989, O'Brien and his fellow SNL writers received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series.

O'Brien, like many SNL writers, occasionally appeared as an extra in sketches; his most notable appearance was as a doorman in a sketch in which Tom Hanks was inducted into the SNL "Five-Timers Club" for hosting his fifth episode. O'Brien returned to host the show in 2001 during its 26th season. O'Brien and Robert Smigel wrote the television pilot Lookwell, starring Adam West. The pilot aired on NBC in 1991. The pilot never went to series, but it became a cult hit. It was later screened at "The Other Network", a festival of un-aired TV pilots produced by Un-Cabaret, featuring an extended interview with O'Brien and rerun in 2002 on the Trio network. From 1991 – 1993, O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons,[10] credited as writer or co-writer of four episodes.[12] Of all the episodes he wrote, he considers "Marge vs. the Monorail" to be his favorite.[10] Along with that episode, he has sole writing credits on "New Kid on the Block", "Homer Goes to College", and "Treehouse of Horror IV", on which he wrote the episode wrap-arounds. He was an active producer during seasons 4 and 5 as well, meaning he would frequently contribute to scripts from those seasons along with coming up with story ideas, plot points and jokes. the style of the comedy of the show during this period was also somehwat influenced by his comic sensibilities. In his speech given at Class Day at Harvard in 2000,[13] O'Brien credited The Simpsons with saving him, a reference to the career slump he was experiencing prior to his hiring for that show.[14] As of 2004, O'Brien's office at The Simpsons was being used as storage.[15]

Late Night

As executive producer, Michaels invited O'Brien to audition to host the successor show to Late Night with David Letterman.[5] Premiering on September 13, 1993, Late Night with Conan O'Brien received generally unfavorable critical reviews for the first two to three years after its debut. The show remained on multi-week renewal cycles while NBC decided its fate.[5] By 1996-97, O'Brien's writing and comedic style was thought to have improved, and he began to develop a growing fan base, especially with high school and college students, as well as the respect of critics and his peers. O'Brien would later poke fun at the first three years of the show when on his 10th Anniversary Special, Mr. T appeared to give O'Brien a gold necklace with a giant "7" on it. When O'Brien tried to point out that he's actually been on the air for ten years, Mr. T responded, "I know that, fool...but you've only been funny for seven!"

Beginning in 1996, O'Brien and the Late Night writing team were nominated annually for the Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series, winning the award for the first and only time in 2007. In 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004 he and the Late Night writing staff won the Writers Guild Award for Best Writing in a Comedy/Variety Series. In 2001, he formed his own television production company, Conaco, which subsequently shared in the production credits for Late Night.[5] A long-running joke is that O'Brien resembles the first female President of Finland, Tarja Halonen. After joking about this for several months (which led to the recurring segment "Conan O'Brien Hates My Homeland" and his endorsement of her campaign), O'Brien traveled to Finland and appeared on several television shows, and met President Halonen. The trip was filmed and aired as a special.

O'Brien ad libbed the fictional website name "" on December 4, 2006, after a sketch about the fictional manatee mascot and its inappropriate web-cam site.[5] NBC opted to purchase the website domain name for $159, since the website did not previously exist. The network was concerned that the Federal Communications Commission would hold NBC liable for promoting inappropriate content if a third party were to register the domain and post such material.[16] According to O'Brien, it was decided that, since NBC owned the name, they might as well create the website. Late Night has since developed an actual website, which now has received millions of hits, reaching 4 million page views in four days. People send in "horny manatee" artwork, poems, and other content. According to the Alexa website ranking system, has had over 10 million web hits.

A popular recurring bit on the show was Pale Force, a series of animated episodes in which comedian Jim Gaffigan and O'Brien are superheroes who fight crime with their "paleness." As Gaffigan introduced each new episode, O'Brien protested the portrayal of his character as cowardly, weak and impotent. As of October 2005, Late Night with Conan O'Brien had for eleven years consistently attracted an audience averaging about 2.5 million viewers.[17] O'Brien is an avid guitarist and music listener. When Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band appeared on the show as a musical guest, O'Brien joined the seventeen piece band along with the Max Weinberg seven and guests Jimmy Fallon and Thomas Haden Church, playing acoustic guitar and contributing backup vocals for the song, "Pay Me My Money Down".

During the writer's strike in 2008, O'Brien staged a Colbert/O'Brien/Stewart feud with Comedy Central's Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show) and Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report) over a dispute about which of the three was responsible for giving "a bump" to Mike Huckabee's campaign to become the Republican presidential nominee. This fight crossed over all three shows.[18] On the June 13, 2008, episode of Late Night, O'Brien simply walked onto the stage at the start of the show. Instead of his usual upbeat antics and monologue, O'Brien announced that he had just received news about the sudden death of his good friend, fellow NBC employee and frequent Late Night guest Tim Russert. O'Brien proceeded to show two clips of his favorite Russert Late Night moments.[19] On February 20, 2009, NBC aired the last episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The show consisted of a compilation of previous "Late Night" clips, and included a surprise appearance by O'Brien's former sidekick, Andy Richter. Will Ferrell, John Mayer, and the White Stripes also appeared. O'Brien ended the episode by thanking a list of people that helped him get to that point in his career. Among those thanked were Lorne Michaels, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and O'Brien's wife and children.

The Tonight Show

In 2004, O'Brien negotiated a new contract with NBC. As part of the deal, O'Brien would take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009.[5] O'Brien was a guest on Jay Leno's final episode of The Tonight Show on May 29, 2009 before he became the host of the show. On June 1, Will Ferrell became Conan's first guest on the couch, and Pearl Jam appeared as the first musical guest with O'Brien as host.[20]

During the filming of the Friday, September 25, 2009 episode of The Tonight Show, O'Brien suffered from a mild concussion after he slipped and hit his head while running a race as part of a comedy sketch with guest Teri Hatcher. He was examined at a hospital and released the same day. A rerun was aired that night, but O'Brien returned to work the following Monday and poked fun at the incident.[21][22]

O'Brien/Jay Leno controversy

On Thursday, January 7, 2010, NBC executives met with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien to discuss how to get Leno out of prime time where his ratings were lackluster, and back into late night. A proposal was made that would see O'Brien remain as host of "The Tonight Show," which would be moved to 12:05am, with Leno hosting a 30 minute show at 11:35.[23] On January 10, NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin confirmed that The Jay Leno Show would indeed be moved to 11:35 at the start of the Winter Olympics on February 12.[24] Sources familiar with the situation told the New York Post that O'Brien was unhappy with the switch and had been in talks with the FOX network about launching a show there.[25]

Emmy host

O'Brien hosted the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards on August 27, 2006 to critical acclaim.[26] He had previously hosted the Primetime Emmys in 2002, and co-hosted in 2003.

Voice work and guest appearances

O'Brien's first guest appearance after beginning his late-night career was on the show he used to write for, The Simpsons. He played himself in the 5th-season episode "Bart Gets Famous", interviewing Bart Simpson during his rise to fame as a catchphrase comedian.[27] The episode was produced after his audition to replace David Letterman, but before he was hired to the show. O'Brien later admitted he believed his show would be canceled by the time the episode aired. O'Brien appeared as a character in the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, voiced by Brent Spiner. O'Brien later appeared in South Park in the episode "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?". In 2006, he voiced himself in a short South Park scene as part of the opening of the 2006 Emmy Awards. He appeared recently in 2009 in the episode "Fishsticks". In 2005, he provided the voice of Robert Todd Lincoln in the audio book version of Assassination Vacation. He appeared in another late-night talk show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast (SGC2C), in Episode 77: Fire Ant, in which he and Space Ghost argue about a number of topics, including whether or not anyone actually watches SGC2C. Space Ghost later quips, "Well, that's very stupid, and you won't make it in television," an obvious parody of early reviews of O'Brien's show.

O'Brien made an appearance on Robot Chicken: Star Wars, and Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, on June 17, 2007 as the voice of the bounty hunter Zuckuss. In a parody of Late Night, Zuckuss hosts a talk show called "Late Night with Zuckuss. O'Brien's "Fake Celebrity Interviews" segment was even spoofed when Zuckuss did a "fake interview" with Emperor Palpatine. Typical of Conan's fake interviews, the fake Palpatine made a fool of himself. He also appeared in Season one on the show in two roles. First as a pizza delivery man who is not aware of his customer's sexy advances; and as a wrestling announcer with historical figures as pro wrestlers. On the TV show 30 Rock, O'Brien is depicted as an ex-boyfriend of lead character Liz Lemon, who works in the same building. In the episode "Tracy Does Conan", Conan appears as himself, awkwardly reunited with Lemon and coerced by network executive Jack Donaghy into having the character Tracy Jordan on Late Night, despite having been assaulted in Jordan's previous appearance.

O'Brien also made a cameo appearance on the US version of The Office. In the episode "Valentine's Day", Michael believed that he spotted someone that looks like former SNL cast member Tina Fey, but mistakes another woman for her. In the meantime, Conan has a quick walk-on and the camera-crew informs Michael when he returns from talking to the Tina Fey look-alike. Conan also starred in a sketch set in The Office with the cast as part of his hosting duties with the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards. O'Brien will be a guest star on a future episode of the Nick Jr. animated show The Backyardigans, providing the voice of Santa Claus. The episode is scheduled to air later in the show's upcoming fourth season.[28] O'Brien does not usually appear in TV commercials. He lampooned this in 2009 by starring in one of Bud Light's Super Bowl XLIII commercials as himself. In the ad, O'Brien agrees to do a Bud Light commercial where he dresses and acts suggestively and says "Vroom! Vroom! Party Starter!" The spot is only supposed to air in Sweden, but ends up being broadcast on the Jumbotron in New York City's Times Square. It shows Bud Light's slogan at the time, "The Difference is Drinkability", in Swedish. Super Bowl XLIII aired on NBC, O'Brien's network.

Television writer/producer (2002–present)

In 2002, O'Brien helped write and produce Andy Richter Controls the Universe, a comedy series that ran for two seasons. It was canceled mostly due to poor ratings. In 2004, O'Brien had to apologize to Canadians for engaging in Quebec bashing, something which some felt to be racist towards Francophones.[29] On March 7, 2006, NBC announced a new adventure/comedy series entitled Andy Barker, P.I.. O'Brien was executive producer and also co-wrote the pilot. The show starred O'Brien's former sidekick Andy Richter. After six episodes and low ratings, the show was canceled despite being named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the Top Ten Shows of 2007.[30] USA Network has handed out a 90-minute, cast-contingent pilot order to the medical-themed Operating Instructions from O'Brien's production banner. O'Brien will serve as an executive producer through his Conaco label. The script comes from Just Shoot Me veterans Judd Pillot and John Peaslee, who will also executive produce."[31]

Personal life

O'Brien was in a relationship with Lisa Kudrow, until O'Brien decided to move to New York to pursue a television show. O'Brien met Elizabeth Ann 'Liza' Powel (who prior was dating actor Eric Schaeffer) in 2000 when she appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in an advertising skit involving Foote, Cone & Belding.[32] The couple dated for nearly 18 months before their 2002 marriage in Powel's hometown of Seattle. O'Brien and Powel have a daughter Neve (born in 2003)[33] and son Beckett (born in 2005).[34] O'Brien repeatedly affirms his Irish Catholic heritage on his show. On a 2009 episode of Inside the Actors Studio, he stated that both sides of his family moved to America from Ireland in the 1850s, subsequently marrying only other Irish Catholics, and that his lineage is thus 100% Irish Catholic.[5]

O'Brien donated $500 to the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd in 1997 and again in 2004.[35] O'Brien's long-time friend and former roommate at Harvard is Father Paul B. O' Brien, with whom he founded Labels Are For Jars,[36] an anti-hunger organization based in Lawrence, MA and helped open the Cor Unum meal center in 2006.[37] The two are not related.

In January 2008, after his show was put on hold for two months due to the strike by the Writers Guild of America, he reemerged on late-night TV sporting a beard, which guest Tom Brokaw described as making him look like "a draft dodger from the Civil War." He grew the beard in support for his writers, but shortly after shaved it off.

O'Brien purchased a $10.5 million mansion in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California to prepare for his move there in 2009 from New York City to work his new job hosting The Tonight Show at Universal Studios Hollywood.[38][39] As part of a long running gag, he brought his 1992 Ford Taurus SHO with him to California, showcasing it on the inaugural episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.

Subject of stalking

It was reported that since September 2006, O'Brien had allegedly been stalked by Father David Ajemian of the Archdiocese of Boston, who despite multiple warnings to stop, had been sending O'Brien letters signed as "your priest stalker" and coming in contact with O'Brien's parents. Ajemian sent a letter to O'Brien, frustrated that he had been denied a spot in the Late Night audience. He stated in his letter to O'Brien that he flew to New York, "in the dimming hope that you might finally acknowledge me." He also stated in another letter that, "Is this the way you treat your most dangerous fans??? You owe me big time pal." Ajemian also seemed to have made a death threat to O'Brien in another letter; saying, "Remember Frank Costello once dodged a bullet in your building and so can you."

Ajemian tried to forcefully enter a taping of Late Night, but was caught and arrested. He was previously warned by the NBC security team to stay away from the studio. After a psychological evaluation, he was deemed fit to stand trial. He has since been bailed out of jail.[40] He was then reported missing by his father around 3:15 PM EST on November 10, 2007. He was found and underwent evaluation at a hospital. It is known that the two had attended Harvard University at the same time. He was found fit to stand trial on April 4, 2008.

On April 8, 2008, Ajemian pleaded guilty to stalking, stating that "he never meant to cause anxiety or to upset anyone." He was ordered to pay a $95 court charge, and was also required to sign a two-year restraining order, barring him from coming near O'Brien.[41] On September 11, 2008, Ajemian checked himself out of his treatment at a hospital against the wishes of his bishop, Seán Patrick O'Malley. Cardinal O'Malley then released a statement, saying that because he violated his bishop's wishes, Ajemian can no longer serve as a priest in the Catholic Church.[42]

Comedy and mannerisms

On Late Night, O'Brien became known for his more active and spontaneous hosting style.[5] He started off every show by saying, "We have a great show for you tonight" and ended nearly every show with a quick, quirky "Bye, everybody, bye!" His stage habits included, but were not limited to, mime, self-deprecation, dramatic expressions, various impressions, use of awkward pauses or responses, moving his hair and scalp back and forth and constantly buttoning up and unbuttoning his suit jacket. He frequently made fun of and interacted with the audience. He commonly made light of his own appearance including his hairstyle, his pale skin, his clumsiness and his height. He has continued many of these themes into his position as host of The Tonight Show.

One of O'Brien's trademarks is to perform the "string dance." He also does intentionally poor and exaggerated impressions of celebrities which are often reduced to a specific characteristic, phrase or gesture that represents that person; among the most common are Larry King, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Leno, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump.


  • Guest appearance on The Jon Stewart Show (1993)
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien (1993—2009)
  • Saturday Night Live (1991, 2001)
  • The Simpsons (as himself) (1994)
  • Space Ghost: Coast to Coast (as himself) (1999)
  • Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995)
  • The Single Guy (1996)
  • Arli$$ (1996)
  • Spin City (1999)
  • Futurama (1999)
  • Storytelling (2001)
  • Vanilla Sky (2001)
  • Sugar & Spice (2001) (cameo in end credits)
  • Andy Richter Controls the Universe (2003)
  • End of the Century (2003)
  • Bewitched (as himself) (2005)
  • Robot Chicken (2005)
  • The Denial Twist (The White Stripes music video) (2005)
  • O'Grady (2006)
  • The Office (cameo) (2006)
  • Queer Duck (as himself) (2006)
  • 30 Rock (as himself) (2007, 2009)
  • Robot Chicken Star Wars (as Zuckuss) (2007)
  • Guest appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (2007, 2008)
  • Guest appearance on The Colbert Report (2007, 2008)
  • Guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1993,[43] 2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Sesame Street (2008)
  • Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II (as Zuckuss, Star Wars nerd) (2008)
  • The Backyardigans (2009)
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (2009)
  • The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (2009)


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  2. Associated Press (2008-07-21). "Leno's last 'Tonight' announced". Retrieved 2008-07-21. "Leno's last show will be Friday, May 29, and O'Brien will start the following Monday, June 1, NBC executives told a Television Critics Association meeting Monday." 
  3. "Conan O'Brien Biography (1963-)". Film Reference. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  4. "Conan Christopher O’Brien". Ancestry. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 Stated on Inside the Actors Studio, 2009
  6. Beggy, Carol (2003-11-06). "Monet goes to Vegas; Kerry goes out on the town". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  7. "Harvard College Freshman Dean's Office". Harvard College. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  8. Aucoin, Don (August 31, 2003). "Understanding Conan". The Boston Globe Magazine. 
  9. Rabin, Nathan (2006-08-30). "Conan O'Brien". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Host of Late Night With Conan O'Brien". Greater Talent Network. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  11. "Jeff Garlin interview". Late Night with Conan O'Brien. 2007-09-07.
  12. "Conan O'Brien". IMDB. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  13. Volonnino, Michael R. (2000-06-08). "O'Brien Returns to Harvard". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  14. "Conan O'Brien's Commencement Speech for the Harvard Class of 2000". everything2. 2000-08-08. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  15. The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season DVD commentary for episode 9F10, "Marge vs. the Monorail". [DVD]. 
  16. Steinberg, Jacques (2006-12-12). "So This Manatee Walks Into the Internet". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  17. Grigoriadis, Vanessa (2005-09-26). "Conan on the Couch". New York magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  18. Gomez, Fin (2008-02-06). "Who Created Huckabee? Conan, Stewart, and Colbert Fight it Out". Fox News. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  19. "Conan O'Brien Pays Tribute to Tim Russert". 
  20. Will Ferrell Helps Conan Kick Things Off
  21. "Conan O'Brien OK after hitting head in show stunt". The Washington Post Company. Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  22. "O'Brien back on 'Tonight,' joking about accident". Hudson Valley Media Group. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  23. "NBC Wants Leno Back in Old Slot". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  24. "Leno returns to late night: NBC". 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  25. "Just Call Him Conan O'Flyin'". New York Post. 2010-01-11. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  26. Adalian, Josef (2006-08-27). "article". Variety. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  27. The Simpsons, episode 1F11, "Bart Gets Famous"
  28. "Dubway Studios News". February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-11. 
  29. "Conan O'Brien apologizes to Canadians". 
  30. Flynn, Gillian (2007-12-21). "Andy Barker, P.I.". Entertainment Weekly.,,20162677_20164091_20166802,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  31. "Conan O'Brien scrubs up for medical drama — Yahoo! News". Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  32. Serpe, Gina (2005-11-10). "Conan's Baby O'Brien". E! Online. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  33. "Conan O'Brien and wife have baby girl". USA Today. 2003-10-15. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  34. "Conan O'Brien & Wife Have Second Child". People magazine. 2005-11-11.,,1128416,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  35. "Conan O'Brien's Federal Campaign Contribution Report". Newsmeat.'Brien.php. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  36. "Labels are for Jars". Labels are for Jars. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  37. Betances, Yadira, "One year, 100,000 meals; Cor Unum reaches milestone feeding the hungry", The Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence, Massachusetts, September 28, 2007.
  38. "O'Brien Spends Big in L.A.". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  39. "Guess Who Will be Bunking in Brentwood" (Blog). January 2008. 
  40. "Conan's Alleged 'Priest Stalker' in Court". 
  41. "Conan Stalker Pleads Guilty". 
  42. "Conan O'Brien's Stalker Checks Out of Treatment". 
  43. As stated on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, May 29, 2009.

Further reading

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Conan O'Brien. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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