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The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien: First Week in Review

Updated on December 23, 2009
Mmm, that's some good Conan.
Mmm, that's some good Conan.

The torch has been passed. The late night talk show formula began in the 1950’s with Steve Allen and has seen the likes of Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and now coming from his later time slot Late Night: Conan O’Brien.

Conan has some big shoes to fill or at least that’s what he’s been told in the press. Jay Leno had a lucrative 17 year run on the Tonight Show competing directly with the juggernaut David Letterman. Leno decided to retire about a year and a half ago and the time has come for him to go... all the way to the sunny conservative beaches of the Fox Network. The Jay Leno Show will debut later this fall with a similar format to his old Tonight Show gig but at an earlier time slot.

We’re not here to talk about Jay Leno though. He’s over and done with. Old news, a has-been, the big chin’s reign is finished. No, he’s a decent comedian but still his run has come to an end. Bring in the new guy from the next generation: Conan O’Brien.

Along with Conan come his drummer and band Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7. Only now they are Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show band. Conan’s Late Night audience has hopefully followed him as well. NBC Universal has built him and his crew a massive new set at the Universal lot in Los Angeles, California and it will be interesting to see how well he utilizes it; he used to need camera tricks to make his old set look big.

The Tonight Show’s first week under Conan’s staff has been as good as one might expect. They’ve changed the old format a little bit and rehired Andy Richter as the announcer but the monologue is still solid, the guest interview are relevant and interesting, and the new bigger budget allows Conan to play around with some interesting bits. The show does have its share of problems but we might be able to chalk that up to growing pains. As each episode went by this week the show seemed to take on confidence.

Let’s see exactly what happened and how Conan did:

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

Conan's Wicked Hair
Conan's Wicked Hair

Monday Night: Episode 1

Conan’s debut show opened with a great piece about Conan running from New York to L.A. As Conan’s long gangly body sprinted across different national landscapes, through Wrigley’s field, and even into a doll shop, we were reminded about what kind of show Late Night show was and assured that the Tonight Show would not be much different.

After calming the crowd down with some string dancing and soothing words Conan jumped into the monologue. Here’s where the changes come up. For some reason they thought bringing Andy Richter back was a good idea. He stands across from Conan at the announcers pedestal during the monologue and the camera will occasionally cut to him for some adlibbing. Not a good idea. Richter never had anything interesting to chime in and tended only to point out the obvious. We’ll talk more about him later as the week goes on and the producers try to fit his square peg somewhere in the show.

Conan used to run to his desk as soon as the news story jokes were complete but he’s decided against that (probably because the new set is so big.) He remains standing at center stage now until the first commercial break and introduces taped bits from that area. Monday’s show had him riding the Universal Tram tour in circles and commenting on Los Angeles residents through a megaphone as the tour passed.

Will Ferrel and Pearl Jam guest starred and both were excellent. Will Ferrel’s entrance, sitting on the shoulders of four muscular Egyptian men, was so great they saw fit to discuss it as a news story on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Conan was also extremely excited to have Pearl Jam on his program for the opening show. You would think the way he announced and introduced them, that they are his favorite rock band. The performance they gave might explain why.

Tuesday Night: Episode 2

It has always been a staple for Conan to comment on the state of the NBC network and he continues to. His monologue’s most notable feature on Tuesday was the clip of Brian Williams interviewing President Barak Obama for the Inside the White House special. Williams actually discussed the Leno to Conan change with Obama. Quite an honor I should think.

Sadly, Andy Richter still couldn’t add anything to the show and his face on screen tended to bring in only dead air. The outside the studio clip made up for the downtime though and had Conan playing dress up on Rodeo Rd in Pretty Woman style.

Tom Hanks guest starred to promote his new movie Angels and Demons but most of the interview he spoke about director Ron Howard. He also made an effort to get the audience chanting Coco but Conan saw fit to hit him with a massive foam meteor. Well done, Coco. Well done. Green Day performed but they were pretty bland. They’ve been playing the same song on the entire talk show circuit for about a month and a half now and its gotten old. You have a whole new album guys, play something other than Do You Know Your Enemy.

Max on the drums.
Max on the drums.

Wednesday Night: Episode 3

The third episode of the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (Conan will stop counting them around episode 200) was pretty bland unfortunately. Andy Richter soured some of the traditional Conan bits: Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, evil guy petting a white cat, and yes the entire Year 2000. However, Conan was able to salvage the bits by using Richter’s questions as jumping off points to further evolve the jokes. Larry King jokes, NBC ribbing abounds, and Kareem Abdul Jabar made a cameo appearance with comfortably peeved short man graphic designer Pierre Bernard.

            One of the more iconic pieces in the Conan O’Brien cannon is looking into the future to the year 2000. One of the great things about this piece was that it started in the late 90’s but after the millennium hit Conan continued to do it. For nine years they looked into the future to the year 2000 but now that Andy Richter’s back on the show I guess the nostalgia aspect isn’t good enough.  Richter stopped the whole bit to change all of it. Now it’s a look into the year 3000 and they have expensive new shoulder pads to compliment their traditional flash light faces. A common theme arose: Conan’s jokes work, Andy’s fail.

            Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ interview was great. They discussed Tina Fey and the Oscars and even had Jack McBrayer (Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock) guest starred to get kneed in the groin. Bradley Cooper was not as interesting but he at least did a good job of hyping his new movie: the Hangover. Sheryl Crow also played a song.

Andy Richter on Conan. Not so great.
Andy Richter on Conan. Not so great.

Thursday Night: Episode 4

The best Thursday episode of the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien ever is not saying much at all. Richter actually had something to add to the monologue this time but it was a short lived argument about the pronunciation with one of the audience members. For some reason Conan is all about the Larry King jokes these days and Thursday’s monologue was no exception.

The out of the studio piece had Conan visiting a Foley stage adding sound effects to another NBC show. If you’re interested in movie making the bit was both informative and hilarious. Don’t throw that baby, impatient scuba diver!

Gwyneth Paltrow was the first guest and she greased up her legs just for the interview. You’d almost think, the website she was promoting, was a porn site. Her dress was so short that she was visibly nervous about flashing the audience and the camera until the shot tightened on her face and away from her crotch.

Joel McHale was the second guest but like Tom Hanks, he spent most of the interview talking about someone else: Ryan Seacrest. The John Mayer Trio performed and they were as good as you might expect.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Conan ran over a bible salesman while drunk driving.

Monkey around with Conan.
Monkey around with Conan.

Friday Night: Episode 5

The best and final episode of the week was Friday’s show. On his run with Late Night Conan would usually save the best stuff for Friday and he has kept with the tradition on the Tonight Show. Cool down my babies, Conan’s show now has 20% less hype and 30% more laughs.

The monologue had a perfect mix of new and old. Conan managed to blend Bush jokes, Kirsty Ally fat jokes, Paul Abdul ribbing and even Super Mario Brothers together but Andy Richter still managed to slow him down. He’s also inherited a few regular L.A. bits from Leno. Most recognizably: Clippers suck. We miss you in the North East Conan. We don’t get your West Coast relevance now.

The guests were spectacular even though one of them was Ryan Seacrest. The emotions went from sentimental to laugh out loud funny as Patton Oswalt took the chair. He wasn’t promoting anything in particular but he and Conan have a fantastic chemistry together. Sammy Hagar’s new band Chickenfoot performed and a dog ate Bar mitzvah cake.

To Sum up the Week

The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien is going to be just as good as his Late Night Show once it builds up enough momentum. O’Brien just needs to get his bearings around the new set and the show will take off. However, I had a major problem with the role Andy Richter took. His adlibbing never seemed to work, he changed some staples for the worse, and he doesn’t even do that great of a job as the new announcer. He left Late Night for a reason, it begs the question: why bring him back at all?

The great thing about Conan being on the Tonight Show is the new time slot. Now you can watch Jon Stewart at 11 and Conan directly afterwards and if you’re into Leno pretty soon you’ll be able to catch him right before both of them. If Jimmy Fallon clean up his act we might have a comedy dream team all the way from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Keep up the good work, Conan O’Brien!

The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien airs every weekday night at 11:30 EST on NBC.

Watch Conan at
Watch Conan at


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    • profile image

      ConanVsJay 8 years ago from Las Vegas

      You were right about building up momentum. I honestly think Conan's Tonight Show would have been the best ever...

    • mproctor profile image

      mproctor 8 years ago from Boston, MA

      Actually, what used to make Conan good was the chemistry between Conan and Max they satirized the Kevin Eubanks/Leno Shaffer/Letterman connection. Now that Richter has taken the "2nd in command" role they've sterilized the show and got rid of one of the unique qualities about it.

    • mproctor profile image

      mproctor 8 years ago from Boston, MA

      The only thing good that came out of Paul Shaffer is Norm McDonald's Letterman impression. "Yeah, yeah. HAH HAH!"

    • profile image

      evildevil97 8 years ago

      You must HATE Paul Shaffer and Kevin Eubanks....


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