Some quick thoughts on Conan O'Brien's debut as host of "The Tonight Show" coming up just as soon as I hit the 99-cent store...
When Conan wrapped up his "Late Night" stint in February, I wrote "there was a sense that Conan's 'Late Night' was less a traditional talk show than a sketch comedy show with occasional interviews." His first episode of "Tonight" was, essentially, "Late Night" on a larger stage: a monologue, lots of filmed comedy pieces, and only one interview -- and even that was with a guest, Will Ferrell, who approaches these appearances as an excuse to goof around with the host.
By going with so much comedy upfront -- and so much of Conan's own oddball kind of comedy, like the bit where he drove his beat-up Ford Taurus around LA to the strains of Billy Ocean's "Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car" -- Conan was simultaneously reassuring his fans that he wasn't going to change too much in the new gig, and telling the traditional "Tonight" audience what they might expect from the new landlord.
This was the smart, and really only, play Conan could make on night one of such a high-profile job. I just wish the execution had been a little better. There was a lot of Conan-style comedy, but other than the Taurus bit and the opening cross-country run (scored, perfectly, to Cheap Trick's "Surrender," a song that automatically makes any montage at least 10% better), most of the bits fell fairly flat. Conan as Universal Studios tour guide went on way too long (and unlike, say, Conan at an old-time baseball game, there wasn't enough of a payoff at the end to make the time worth it), the "Hollywoo" and Laker game gags weren't especially funny even at a brief length, and there wasn't enough interaction between Conan and Andy, even with Andy in his new role as announcer instead of sidekick. I think I laughed more at the tease Conan showed on Jay's final "Tonight" on Friday of Conan undercover with a focus group (which I guess we'll see more of later this week) than I did at everything in this episode.
It wasn't a bad show, and Conan has certainly banked so much goodwill from me and most "Late Night" viewers that him being uneven on his first night isn't that big a deal. And I'm certainly not predicting doom for him -- you would think we all learned that lesson after his first couple of years on "Late Night" -- but I do wonder if any Jay fans who were on the fence about giving this freakishly tall replacement a shot may have hopped off the fence after last night to wait for their man to return in primetime in September.
What did everybody else think?