“The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” … Episode 1


History was made last night, with the fourth changing of the hosts on NBC’s The Tonight Show as Conan O’Brien took over from car collector Jay Leno. First episodes of new formats, even for veterans, can be a little rusty, so let’s take a look at …

What went right:

The opening sequence with Conan running across the country to Los Angeles — nice touch running across Wrigley Field, as well as showing the side of Tribune Tower (Full disclosure: Tribune Company owns Wrigley Field and Tribune Tower, as well as this website), but nicer still was the use of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” in effect usurping Pearl Jam as the first band to “rock” Conan’s The Tonight Show.

Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band actually KEEPING the ultra-hip John Lurie theme song from the old show.

The opening monologue got off to a nice start with this apt line: “I think I’ve timed this moment perfectly. Think about it: I’m on a last-place network, I moved to a state that’s bankrupt, and Tonight Show is sponsored by General Motors.”

The return of Andy Richter.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 1/2-second “Hello” clip. (“She’s busy, you know!”)

Conan at the Lakers game with his celebrity friends Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear and some guy who looked like Billy Joel, who watched courtside … as Conan sat at the back of the upper balcony.

Guiding the tour of the Universal lot — from driving the tour trams in circles to taking them into traffic … and then to the dollar store. (OK, not the best moment of the night, but Conan-esque enough.)

Conan’s saluting Leno’s tenure was a class act … marred only by a momentary impersonation of Leno whining about getting back on TV — probably a good move, showing respect while not necessarily kissing Leno’s butt.

Busting the top of the Hollywood sign’s letter “D” dragging it out of the studio.

Will Ferrell’s entrance, being carried in on a sort of Sedia Gestatoria by a bunch of muscular drones.

Will Ferrell as Conan’s first guest. (Especially that bit when he told the Tony voters that Liza Minnelli was a communist, and that voting for her was like urinating on the flag. … And insinuating to Conan that the network executives are getting ready to pull the plug.)

And what went a little less than right:

Will Ferrell as Conan’s first guest — and NO ultra-embarrassing velcro-suit routine. Sure, he’s defying expectations and all, but if there was anything on the show underscoring its toned-down nature, it was this anticipated moment that never materialized, especially considering the momentousness of the occasion.

And, well, Eddie Vedder’s voice seemed a little out of order.

But really — if these are the only two real complaints about Conan’s first show on the West Coast, he’s off to a solid start. Let’s see where he goes from here.