I’m what you consider the “target audience” for Conan O’Brien.
Early 30s white male, likes to stay up late, followed Conan religiously with the other frat boys in college back in the mid-90s.
I’ve been a fan since Day 1 (well before that even, when he was a writer for The Simpsons) … so needless to say, I felt a bit of pride for Conan as he darted across the country by foot to open his first “Tonight Show” as only the fourth host in the program’s 50-plus year history.
It’s because I’ve been there from the beginning that I feel I can be a tad critical of his opening night.
In short … Conan didn’t necessarily hit a home run in his first at-bat. It was more like he started off with a triple … and was left stranded at third.
That triple was the opening sequence, which showed Conan sitting in an apartment, marking off his “to do” list, which ended with “Move to L.A.” The camera pans away from Conan to show the New York skyline.
After failing to catch a cab, Conan takes off running, Forrest Gump style (with Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” in the background). He darts across the Brooklyn Bridge … through Pennsylvania Amish country, through Wrigley Field in Chicago (while being chased by security), under the arch in St. Louis, through the desert, by a Victorian doll house (where he stops momentarily to sample the goods), through Vegas and eventually through Los Angeles and to his studio in Hollywood … where he realizes he’s forgotten his keys.
It was vintage Conan, a wonderfully produced sketch done on a grader scale than anything he’d done at “Late Night”.
It was the perfect start to a new era.
Unfortunately, the rest was a mixed bag. Conan’s monologue was performed nervously (he paced back and forth the entire time), Andy Richter was reduced to an over-laugher at the podium instead of the comedic sidekick he used to be, a quick Joe Biden sketch seemed like a leftover from Leno’s writers, a sketch about Conan’s old Ford Taurus was mediocre, his sketch on the Universal tour bus had its moments but was long-winded and the sound during the Pearl Jam performance at the end was “off.”
Conan had three months from his last night at “Late Night” to prepare for the show, and it appeared two-and-a-half of those months were spent filming the cross-country trek.
Granted, the monologue was never his strongest talent, and I’m certain the sketch comedy will morph into the edgier stuff we’re used to (in other words, there was no “Masturbating Bear” sketch for the 11:30 crowd) … and the nerves will go away. Conan, I predict, will do just fine in Leno’s spot … stealing much of the younger crowd that preferred Letterman to Leno and losing some of the older crowd that liked Leno.
Circle of life.
Critical stuff aside, I did laugh. I enjoyed Conan’s stop at a Dollar Store to buy gifts for his tour bus group (and I’m suddenly intrigued with “Boing” soda), and the Will Ferrel interview was funny, as Conan looked more relaxed behind the desk than he did on that giant stage.
Besides, this was one day. If history holds true, he’s got about a thousand more shows left. Now that he’s an hour earlier, I’ll be sure to catch many more.
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