Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Conan's old habits die hard on refurbished Tonight Show

Conan O'Brien's debut on the Tonight Show was a respectable, if light, affair.

After a great and elaborate intro showing Conan jogging from New York to LA (he stops only to admire collectible dolls), the reveal of the sparkly new set, and the expected standing ovation, it only took Conan a few minutes before his first joke bombed and he returned to his prickly, nervous self. Dance move included.

Perhaps expecting this turn of events, most of the show consisted of pre-taped segments - less immediate, but the safe way to go when nerves are an issue. Thankfully, most of the segments were funny, especially a tour of Universal Studios, in which Conan filled in as tour guide.

The new, larger set looks pretty slick, but poor Andy Richter and Max Weinberg seem like they are literally and figuratively miles away from Conan. Richter was miked during the monologue and showed up on the couch at the end of the show, but was stuck behind a podium for most of it, an even more marginalized Ed McMahon.

And I guess we'll have to get used to Max Weinberg with a tan.

O'Brien's first guest, Will Ferrell, didn't come out until about 40 minutes into the show. While one might have expected a reprise of the dirty leprechaun dance he did on the last Late Night with Conan O'Brien, it didn't happen. If anything Ferrell's shtick seemed tamer at the early hour - a sign of things to come?

Pearl Jam played a boring, new song, which ended the show on a down note. With the recent re-release of their first album, would it have been too much to ask them to perform "Alive" or something more befitting of a big showbiz event?

All in all, it was a good, if muted, debut for Conan - with strong ratings. Leave it to the Washington Post to point out that Leno did better, ratings wise, on his exit last week.

Letterman

Meanwhile, David Letterman kicked off last night's Late Show with a great one-liner, "Looks like I've knocked off another competitor," and welcomed O'Brien in his own way: "I don't know a lot about him. But years ago, he killed a man."

After making fun of a General Motors article on the front page of yesterday's New York Times, Letterman showed an ad for the Late Show, which ran across the bottom of the page and read, "Just one Dave...only on CBS." He seemed genuinely touched by the gesture from CBS.

Dave's first guest was, tellingly, Bill Cosby. Cosby was the pro he always is, but his appearance alone is like Letterman saying, "Screw you, NBC, I got your biggest star!"

Ferguson

After Dave, Craig Ferguson talked about the new Late Night Wars and - hilariously - called his new competition, Jimmy Fallon, "the Fallon boy" and challenged him to naked wrestling:

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