HAVANA -- Unlike Beyonce and Jay-Z's 2013 trip to Cuba that attracted massive crowds everywhere they went, comedian Conan O'Brien just spent several days shooting an episode of his late-night TBS show in the Cuban capital without causing a ripple.
Deadline reported that O'Brien and a small crew flew into Havana last Thursday. TBS said Sunday that O'Brien is taking advantage of President Barack Obama's efforts to improve relations with the island country. O'Brien's show on Cuba will air March 4.
Apart from passing unnoticed by the Cuban public, CBS has not been able to identify the hotel where O'Brien stayed and Foreign Ministry officials who normally deal with the U.S. media deny knowledge of the late-night star's presence in Havana.
O'Brien's trip is the first of a U.S. talk show host to Cuba in more than five decades. The Tonight Show's Jack Paar flew in to interview then President Fidel Castro in 1959 but that was the last such visit.
Scott Pelley anchored CBS News Evening News live from Havana in December, arriving on the very day Mr. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced their intention to reestablish diplomatic relations. He brought viewers a look at Cubans celebrating the announcement, explained the new relaxed regulations and the reactions of major U.S. companies who see business opportunities on the Caribbean island just 90 miles south of Florida.
TBS promises the trip will give O'Brien's viewers "a rare glimpse into the daily life of a country not often seen by American viewers."Although some 100,000 Americans a year have been visiting Cuba on purposeful travel under rules relaxed by President Obama in 2013 and even more are expected under the new policy unrolled by the White House in December, U.S. law still makes the island off limits for tourism.
Most U.S. citizens come to Cuba on so-called people-to-people visits, which are intended by Washington to expose Cubans to the American way of life and values as much as to expose them to Cuban society. These trips' purposes have been interpreted broadly to take in social, cultural and economic aspects of Cuba and to bring visitors into as much close contact with ordinary Cubans as possible.
Even U.S. politicians are using people-to-people trips to exchange views with Cubans and to get a grasp on the changes unfolding on the island since Raul Castro took over from his ailing older brother Fidel in 2006. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are currently in Havana with such a group.