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Conan O’Brien Sinks On ‘Tonight Show’ Debut

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The Tonight Show, with new host Conan O’Brien, premiered last night after much anticipation and came in with a whimper. Instead of a topical monologue, a funny skit or even a show stopping number from Max Weinberg and his band, the show was kicked off with a pair of lame video segments. The worst of the two featured Conan as a tour guide on the Universal Studios Hollywood lot (where the show is filmed). It’s odd that the writers thought that loud shrieking noises would be enough to sustain five minutes of comedy.

The next video had Conan driving around LA with Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” blaring over the soundtrack and it went on far too long. What’s unfortunate about these segments is that they weren’t even remotely innovative and they aped the worst parts of Leno’s shtick. In fact, most the show’s material seemed stale. With Andy Richter back as his sidekick, a fake video message by Hillary Clinton, and Pearl Jam on board as the musical guest, it felt like 1995 all over again.

As he finally settled at his desk, Conan, in a nice gesture, praised Jay Leno for “taking good care of the Tonight Show brand” for 17 years.  That’s more than Leno did for Johnny Carson his first night in. Conan then joked, “He’ll be back in two days,” which may not be too much a stretch based on this opening night display. It’s not that it was all that terrible as much as uneventful and only marginally funny. I enjoyed the bit where he spoke Spanish and introduced his LA alter ego “Conando”, but it was too little, too late.

Luckily, Will Ferrell rode in to save the day…literally. After being carried to the set on a throne by four men dressed up like Egyptian slaves, Ferrell told Conan that he didn’t want to upstage him on his big night. But that’s exactly what he did for the rest of show. With perfect deadpan delivery, Ferrell voiced his shock that Conan actually became the host of The Tonight Show. “No one thought you could do it and I mean no one…this whole thing’s a crap shooter at best.” Truth through gest.

Things aren’t looking too hot for NBC late night anymore (never mind the disastrous ratings for the rest of their programming). First they’ll have Conan emulating Leno on Tonight, followed by the atrocity that is Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (which has been consistently terrible since debuting in March). I’m not even going to mention the beyond bland Last Call with Carson Daly (I wish the show was his last call). We’ll have to wait and see if Conan evolves and makes the Tonight his own. If not, then David Letterman and Craig Ferguson can start planning their victory parties.

Here’s the cold opening, with Conan running from New York to LA. He runs past the Chicago Tribune and Wrigley Field around the 2:56 mark. Go Cubs!

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