If you’re a true fan of Conan O’Brien, his much-hyped, post-"Tonight Show" return to television on Monday night was something you likely looked forward to with the excitement of a kid of Christmas eve. He’s back in action, following much the same comedic formula he’s had on late-night TV since 1993, to the wild delight of his legions of fans,
The kickoff of "Conan" was a hit with young viewers, delivering a premier episode – which featured guests Seth Rogen, Lea Michele and Jack White – to 4,155,000 total viewers, a fantastic first-night take for the show. When the lanky ginge first took the stage, the studio crowd’s excitement for his return manifested itself reached a fever pitch, resulting in an extended standing ovation. “That lasted longer than my last job,” Conan joked early on.
“Welcome to my second annual first show,” O’Brien said, as the audience settled in. He took advantage of the closer proximity to the much-closer crowd in his new, massive studio, hugging them or shaking their hands and pretending to stalk them. “I know what you guys are thinking. Hey, it’s the guy from Twitter.”
Watch the hilarious cold open, complete with Godfather death-scene reference:
O’Brien’s been building to this moment for a long time. After a summer of soul searching with his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour, during which time he was courted by various networks on a new show and built a newly rabid following on social media networks.
“Conan’s audience has been very vocal online, and he clearly made a smooth transition from Twitter to TBS,” said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks. “Conan delivered an extraordinary audience and stands out as the youngest late-night talk show on television.”
Making the move to TBS serves as no great risk for Conan, and he’s visibly aware that no matter how much he mocks the notion of being on a basic cable channel, his job is secure. Still, one tugging feeling I couldn’t shake throughout the episode is that Conan is above this. Yes, basic cable is a step down, but he genuinely looked too big for the room. His "Late Night" followers remember the relative circus that took place each night – last night’s kickoff was timid and understated by comparison. Granted, this is only the premier episode we’re talking about, but even the Basic Cable Band – a far cry from the high-stepping big band sound of the Max Weinberg 7 – felt subdued.
Other than losing his band leader, other changes include a huge floating moon and new set furniture, as well as a beautiful seaside backdrop of a part of Burbank the landlocked residents have apparently never heard of. Andy Richter remains as Conan’s pudgy, trusty wisecracking sidekick, of course.
Before the guest segments, Conan detailed his journey of ups and downs, culminating in what he said was “the lowest low” – the discovery of a Halloween mask clearly modeled after him, called "Ex Talk Show Host.”
“What the hell?” Conan said. “Why don’t you just put a cigarette out in my eye?” Richter tried on one of the masks and nailed the moment: “Inside it smells like tears.”
Ex Talk Show Host Mask
As decided by fans, the first guest of the new show was Seth Rogen ("I’m so glad everyone more famous was busy right now"), and a fairly ho-hum interview ensued. "Glee" castmember Lea Michele followed suit, talking awkwardly about her magazine shoots that not a soul on Earth could possibly care about.
Then, in the best moment of the show, Conan sang a duet with Jack White while playing guitar, the result of their longstanding friendship and live collaboration last June at White’s Third Man Records in Nashville. It was a cover of Eddie Cochran’s "Twenty Flight Rock," and you can check it out here:
Conan and Jack White
Judging from Monday night’s first show, we can safely assume that Conan is the same crazy fire-topped comedian we’ve always known. Here’s hoping he and Andy Richter have kicked off what could be a long run by Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band – maybe the show can stick around too.
Tonight, Conan will welcome guests Tom Hanks, Jack McBrayer and Soundgarden. Upcoming guests include Jon Hamm, Fistful of Mercy and Charlyne Yi on Wednesday; and Michael Cera, Julie Bowen and Jon Dore on Thursday.