September 08, 2003 12:00 PM

Late Night with Conan O’Brien
NBC (weeknights, 12:35 a.m. ET)

Conan O’Brien gets a prime-time special Sept. 14 to celebrate his 10th anniversary as the host of Late Night.

Back in 1993, that sentence would have seemed the height of fantasy. Though well regarded as a writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, O’Brien appeared nervous and miscast as David Letterman’s successor. And what was with that doughboy sidekick, Andy Richter? A first anniversary looked unreachable.

Well, Richter grew on me before leaving O’Brien’s side in 2000. In fact I was wishing he’d reattach himself to the Late Night couch after his funny guest shot in mid-August. And O’Brien has gained such confidence over the years that his constant self-deprecation is now gratuitous. I wish he’d cut down on the ritualized schtick—like jumping and twirling on every entrance—but O’Brien has an undeniable gift for physical humor, as well as a refreshing ability to say what’s on the viewer’s mind. “Did you just burp right now?” he recently asked teen actor Shia LaBeouf. We all noticed it. Might as well deal with it.

Late Night has a long-running bit in which the mouth of an imitator is superimposed on the picture of a celebrity. I once found these segments labored; now I laugh every time the faux Arnold Schwarzenegger turns a political question into a plug for one of his movies. The show isn’t flawless, but O’Brien has carved out a nice niche.

BOTTOM LINE: Thriving 10-year-Old

HBO (Sat, Sept. 6,9:45 p.m. ET)

For any naive young female dreaming of running off to Las Vegas to become a showgirl, this so-so documentary should be sobering. For the rest of us, it only confirms what we figured: that a woman’s life ain’t necessarily glamorous because she gets paid to dance in gaudy, revealing costumes.

We learn here that the showgirls in one topless revue take heat from demanding bosses, fear sudden termination and feel pressured to perform despite job-related injuries. Adding to their stress is the awareness that they must maintain their looks by any means necessary, including plastic surgery. It’s not a pretty picture, but then I never thought women like these enjoyed J.Lo-level status in show business.

No offense to the hardworking dancers, but the film’s most interesting characters are Greg Thompson, the revue’s raffish producer; Sunny, his much younger wife; and Mistinguett, his longtime choreographer and ex-lover, who is galled by Sunny’s starring role in the show.

BOTTOM LINE: Middling documentary

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