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Conan eases back into late night with The Tonight Show

by Danny Gallagher, posted Jun 2nd 2009 2:47AM
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

Conan O'Brien's return to late night television as the fifth host of NBC's The Tonight Show (six if you count comedy genius Ernie Kovacs) felt like a jogger who is pacing himself for a long marathon.

That might sound like a bad review. But compare that to Conan's constant high energy Late Night and that makes The Tonight Show a Jack Russell Terrier on at least three Starbucks espressos.

Conan put aside the puppets and characters for his opening night on the Universal Studios lot for a very enjoyable transition to the new Tonight Show that's sure to get better in the months and years to come.

The opening sketch for Conan's first show was just about perfect for his first foray into late night at 11:30 p.m. Conan realizes he's done everything to prepare for his new show except move to L.A. and begins a mad dash across the country. It did a great job of setting the tone for the style of his show, the sparkle of his humor and the unexpectedness his type of talk show brings, and above all else, it was damn funny.

The monologue had a few chortlemakers, but didn't hit a homer out of the park with every swing. That's because the first show aimed to focus on getting Conan and company set up in their new digs and less on topicality and ripping the headlines a new one. The funniest parts were the interchanges between Conan and his new announcer/old sidekick Andy Richter. It was great to see Andy back on late night television and with Conan. The two have a sense of timing together that almost feels telepathic. If one of them turned out to be a ventriloquist dummy and the other their puppet master, it would not surprise me in the slightest. It would creep the hell out of me, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Then as Conan mentioned in his previous interviews, he got down to work and started playing around with the various foils and targets that L.A. has to offer a comedian. He took over a Universal Studios tram tour that led to probably the funniest Octomom joke I've heard all week. His trip through Tinseltown in a beat-up Ford Taurus was hit or miss, but mostly hits that delivered right crosses of funny with every swing.

Then Will Ferrell took to the stage and they could not have picked a better guest to introduce L.A. and the world to the new Tonight Show. Ferrell might be on a junket tour for Land of the Lost, but he easily has some of the most memorable and funniest guest appearances on Conan's old show -- from his thong sporting reenactment of the famous Patton speech to his conducting an entire interview in his comical Robert Goulet persona. No one else could get away with singing a goodbye tribute on Conan's first show.

The whole night was an evening of smart moves for Conan's first show. It set the tone for the humor and style perfectly without giving the audience too much of what they really wanted, but did not sacrifice the wit or comedy that his audiences crave. That means it can only get better from here, and here's hoping that Conan has just as long of a run, if not longer, than Leno's and Johnny Carson's stay on The Tonight Show.



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Andrew

Conan is funny but generally never hilarious
Letterman occasionally has great interviews but I don't find any of his bits to be the least bit funny, he should probably retire soon.
Fallon is not very funny at all, but I like some of his bits, especially the ones involving The Roots (who are clearly the best band in late night)
Ferguson is funny but his guests usually suck
Honestly, I like Kimmel's show the best, I hope his ratings will get better w/ the absence of Leno

June 02 2009 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tool

Since it's easy to be an armchair Tuesday morning quarterback, I'll offer my thoughts.

A. It's a hard task to take over such an iconic show. Anyone who does it is going to be subject to criticism.

B. Conan needs to mix tradition with his own style--not an easy job either. Last night's show was too much Late Night and not enough Tonight Show. Even the theme music was lifted from his Late Night show. Made me think, is this just the 12:30 show at 11:30? Where's the creativity?

C. The color of the set and the lighting makes everyone look really fake. I know this is LA, but geez. Take the over-saturated color down a few notches.

D. Jimmy Fallon had a much better show, better guests and had a hip, modern take on the late night talk show. Might want to learn a few things from him. God, I can't believe I said that.

E. Lead with better material. You had 4 months to come out with a really funny show to establish your reign. I would call this a C-/D+ effort. But I will come back if I'm not watching Charlie Rose or if Letterman has crappy guests pretty much how I watched the Tonight Show in the past.

June 02 2009 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
judy

First part of show running to LA funny.Then it got boring.Did not like announcer.Will stick with cw reruns.Glad Jay will be on earlier in the evening.Have tried to like Conan and Letterman just can not find much to like.

June 02 2009 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cgar

I thought Andy was terrible as the announcer. Joel Godard will be sourly missed.

June 02 2009 at 12:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

I'm a Conan fan and didn't like the first show. I thought it was mostly flat. I'll stick with it for a few months and re-evaluate. It's either Conan or "Family Guy" reruns of episodes I've seen 10 times already, and I'm guessing Conan will win.

June 02 2009 at 11:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Zachary

I didn't watch. The Octomom joke wasn't "I'm a Baby, Get Me Out of Here", was it? Because Fallon and Ferguson both used the exact same joke last night. Network late night will always suck.

June 02 2009 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Zachary's comment
David

It was an original joke, done completely extemporaneously. Conan and some folks he were with witnessed a huge gushing of water on an outdoors film set, to which he remarked, "the octomom's water finally broke".

June 02 2009 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

I thought the opening was good -- the run across America and I enjoyed the Universal spot as well. After about 20 minutes into the show though, it reminded me of the old Conan show which I didn't really care much for so.......I changed the channel over to Letterman. It will be interesting to see how Conan does......and I still hate that jump he does in the beginning.

June 02 2009 at 9:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Gunter

This was the set up show so it's a bit early to really know how it will all go but so far so good.Andy needs to get more familiar with his role and when to interact.He stepped on Conan's lines a couple times and his laugh is too loud so his mike needs to be maybe repositioned.My take is that NBC wanted to move Jay's show to ten and Conan's to 11:35 with only minor changes.People who stayed up till 12:35 17 years ago now go to bed before then.People who like Jay's show now are older and have serious careers that send them to bed by 11:35.It's a business and demographic decision and it makes sense.It's more about who is watching when than it is about hosts.Again so far so good.

June 02 2009 at 9:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy

My only complaint, being a first show, was that they waited until after the 1st commercial break to go to the desk. Instead, they made us sit through a comedy segment, then a break, then finally the desk. It made me anxious. Maybe that was the point?

June 02 2009 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Guess Who

Opening sketch was perfect - the show overall was a solid 9 out of 10. I almost always went Letterman over Leno, but Conan will give Dave a run for the money.

I was struck by how large the new studio soundstage is, you can see Leno and Fallon are/were much smaller. I was also a bit suprised Conan kept his Late Night theme music - but it still works.

For all the mistakes NBC has made in the past five years - they may have got this one right. Good luck Conan.

June 02 2009 at 6:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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