When Conan O’Brien hosted “The Tonight Show” for the last time on Jan. 22, his future was uncertain.
He was leaving NBC and was not permitted to return to television until November, but he was going to receive a huge sum of money for his departure.
What network or channel he would join next, if any, was the big question.
But on April 12, just hours before he began “The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour,” O’Brien announced he would be taking his talents to TBS where he would host an hour-long program that would begin at 11 p.m.
That show, simply titled “Conan,” premiered last Monday with high expectations.
Many media critics, reviewers and fans, like myself, questioned what the show would be like. Would it be similar to his old late night talk shows or would it be something entirely new, like an hour-long sketch comedy show?
Upon tuning in on Monday, the question was answered almost immediately.
After an opening sketch portraying his search for a new network, in which he likened NBC executives to Mafia style hit men, O’Brien was introduced and the studio audience gave him a standing ovation before he went into his monologue. O’Brien was back.
Sporting a neatly trimmed beard, wearing a suit and his trademark hair in place, it seemed that O’Brien was ready to go.
His old friend Andy Richter, who came back for “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” to be the announcer, followed him to TBS along with O’Brien’s band. Only band leader Max Weinberg was gone, replaced by Jimmy Vivino, who had filled in for Weinberg on occasion in the past.
But it seemed like O’Brien was still affected by his departure from NBC. Something just did not seem right.
Like getting over a long but broken relationship with a loved one, O’Brien seemed to be in the beginning stages of moving on. After all, O’Brien had been involved in television for 23 years—being away for just nine months must have been hard.
The one thing that has not left him is his unique sense of humor.
It was expected that he would mention NBC a few times in his opening monologue, but his jokes were spot on and showed his true feelings for his former bosses.
“I gotta be honest though, it’s hard doing a late night show on a channel with not a lot of money, that viewers have trouble finding. So, that’s why I left NBC,” he said.
Throughout the first week, the stars that appeared on his show revealed how much clout O’Brien still holds in the entertainment industry.
Guests included Seth Rogen, Tom Hanks, Michael Cera, Jon Hamm, Will Forte and Julie Bowen.
The Tom Hanks interview was the highlight of the week.
At the end of the interview, Hanks and O’Brien were admiring the new video screen on the set of “Conan,” which is a panoramic view of the ocean, with hills and buildings surrounding the water.
As Hanks and O’Brien looked upon the screen, CGI whales appeared to be breaching and Hanks got into it, pretending to be a whale expert of some sort. As the whales got closer to the screen, water was dumped onto Hanks’ head, all seemingly a part of a plan that Hanks had no idea was in the works.
The first week for “Conan” was a critical and commercial success. The show had 4.2 million viewers tune in on its debut, which broke the previous record held by “The Daily Show” for most viewers of a cable show.
It is expected that his ratings will drop with time, with those who tuned in to see the spectacle of it all leaving and returning to the network late night shows.
But the new O’Brien appears to be here for the long run, slowly working his way back into the groove he knew.
Late night television, destined to be different once O’Brien left, is now back to normal with the comedian on the air.