Conan’s first night

TV O'Brien on Tonight

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.

Conan’s opener:

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One thought on “Conan’s first night

  1. I agree with your synopsis…. and pretty much was left with the same impression once the show closed. In fact, I even mumbled… ‘that’s it?’ The end seemed very abrupt and ill timed, and I think Conan was even surprised it went so quickly. As you point out, I’m sure there were some ‘nerves’ involved, which is understandable. My thoughts on Andy’s role are identical, but I too think that will evolve.

    But again, I think that once they find their ‘groove’, Andy, Conan, band, writers, etc…. it will get better. Looking back at early Leno episodes, it was equally as shaky, and lordy… that early Leno set was baaaad 🙂

    An interesting tidbit. On Leno’s first night, Billy Crystal was his guest and had a special surprise…. a song for Jay. It’s interesting that Will Ferrell did the same thing, although in parody.

    I did enjoy seeing Conan’s uber-hip Taurus SHO again though *laugh* …. I think it was a nod to old time Conan fans. And I suspect we won’t see too many ‘masturbating bears’ at this earlier hour. That will probably be relegated to Jimmy Fallon’s niche. But we’ll see I guess. It also may be possible that NBC will allow The Tonight Show to inherit a little edgier presentation *shrug*

    BTW, although the sound(vocals mostly) did seem “off” on the Pearl Jam performance, I personally think that Eddie was the biggest thing “off” and looked like he was about to have a coronary. He looked REALLY out of shape, and sounded out of shape too. He couldn’t even talk to Conan at the end he appeared so winded. But then again, it’s hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since ‘Ten’. I guess none of us will look like a 25 year old forever 🙂

    I’ll probably be unable to stay up every night to catch Conan, but I do look forward to tuning in every so often. I think he’ll do a great job.


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