If living well is the best revenge, then Conan O’Brien has given Jay Leno his just deserts, in the form of his new program, CONAN, which packed more laughs into its inaugural episode than Jay has mustered in all the shows combined since he wrested THE TONIGHT SHOW away from his erstwhile successor.
Conan may have got a little (okay, a lot) self-indulgent in the premiere of his new chat show, but I think the guy can be forgiven, considering all he has endured in the name of telling jokes on TV late at night. His travails with THE TONIGHT SHOW have been well-documented, and his return to the small-screen in his own show well-promoted. It seems to me like the wait was worth it.
Preliminary ratings have the basic cable debut of CONAN scoring a a 2.8 rating, placing him ahead of the bane of his existence, THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO (2.7), as well as LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (2.5). Expect Conan’s scores to go down following premiere-episode curiosity. But I wish that wasn’t the case, because CONAN deserves to be seen by a larger audience than Leno. Sure, Leno is acclaimed as one of the nicest guys in showbiz, but he’s never been accused of being the funniest, and his humor-challenged TONIGHT SHOW is usually torture to watch. I’ve never attended a taping, but I suspect that electric cattle prods are used to elicit audience laughter.
Still, Conan’s self-indulgence was good-natured and happy, not a wallow in self-pity. He spent a lot of time poking fun at himself, while clearly being grateful to get another chance. If anything, he might have been a little too full of nervous energy, but it worked for opening night.
The best part about the show was the ease with which Conan slipped into a comfortable rhythm. It was like he and classic sidekick Andy Richter had never been apart. (In fact, Andy seemed much more at ease — and used to better effect — than during his short tenure on TONIGHT.) The only classic character we saw was the Masturbating Bear — for better or worse.
I am certainly looking forward to CONAN getting even better as Conan grows more comfortable. He can finally stop looking over his shoulder.