The ‘Conan’ Premiere: What Worked And What Didn’t

By Kyle Anderson and Eric Ditzian

Conan O’Brien returned to television on Monday night (November 8th) in a fantastic hour of comedy, music and chat. O’Brien opened the show with an excellent video package about what he has been up to since he walked off the set of “The Tonight Show” back in January (featuring a cameo by Jon Hamm!) and it rolled from there. Some parts of it felt new (the set, the look and feel of the band) while others were comfortable and familiar (Andy Richter in his rightful place on the couch, a clip featuring the Masturbating Bear). All told, a lot of it worked, and it undoubtedly made his devoted fans (who he thanked on Twitter following the show’s airing) feel good about the future.

But the opening night wasn’t without a few stumbles (and we’re not talking about the strange noise that cropped up during the Lea Michele interview, which O’Brien covered by claiming that a Meineke had rented space just behind the center curtain). Here’s what worked from last night, and what might need work in the future.

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Worked: Addressing the NBC Problem
O’Brien began his new television life the same way he ended his old one: By burying NBC six feet deep. Much of the cold open and most of the monologue were devoted to mocking his old network, and he made the right choice by getting the elephant out of the room right away. The slate felt clean before the opening credits ever rolled, which gave way for the rest of the show to fall in behind it. However…

Needs Work: The Volume of NBC Jokes
The NBC bashing kept going, and eventually it seemed like that was the only idea they had. Of course, it’s possible that the writers and producers wanted to get all the old network jokes out of their collective system in one fell swoop, but the sheer volume of the gags kept the show from really taking off. This will probably be remedied as early as tonight, but it did strike something of an odd tone (especially for the premiere of a new show).

Worked: That Classic Tone
O’Brien’s shows have always had something of a shabby quality to them, as though they are held together with spit and duct tape and could go to pieces at any given moment. While there was nothing that was especially unruly on Monday night’s premiere, it did feel loose in a way that you don’t normally get on late night talk shows. Conan clearly hasn’t lost a step and isn’t feeling any pressure from the network to do anything he doesn’t want to do. They know they want Conan, and he’s happy to give him to them.

Needs Work: Interviews
The Achilles heel that has bothered O’Brien throughout his career has been that his interviews tend to be sort of flat. He’s great with people he’s really comfortable with (people like Norm MacDonald, Tom Hanks and friend Jack White, who had the best exchange of the night with the host), but going through the planned guest patter always seems extra wooden coming from a razor-sharp wit like O’Brien. Both the Seth Rogen and Lea Michele were reasonably amusing but not anything to write home about, and the story about Rogen’s proposal to his topless girlfriend seemed to go on forever. Richter has always helped out with stuff like that, though he was strangely silent during the interviews. Again, as the rhythm and tone of the show becomes more familiar, this should improve.

Worked: Conan’s Beard
He would look wrong without it now.

Needs Work: The Rigged Poll
While funny in theory, the “rigged fan poll” bit was a bit leaden and came across as odd and slapped together. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would probably suggest something he could do to that bit.

What were your favorite moments of the “Conan” premiere? What didn’t work? Let us know in the comments!