Ken Tucker
June 02, 2009 AT 03:32 PM EDT

Conan O’Brien started his first night as host of The Tonight Show with a show that looked as though its budget might have been able to help out General Motors significantly. The opening bit — a long, amusing run across the country from Manhattan to his new studio in Los Angeles — showed that O’Brien used his time preparing to replace Jay Leno wisely. Also that he’s thinking big. 

This taped piece, along with others about taking over a Universal Studios tour tram, another in which he ribbed L.A. car-culture by driving some unhip wheels around the town, and even the short but elaborate sight-gag of Conan at a Lakers game, with the camera panning from Jack Nicholson in a floor seat to Conan up in the rafters — all these suggested just how much careful, clever planning the host is bringing to his new job.

Was all this funny? Sure. But I also have to say, I laughed just as much at the Choco-taco joke he shared with his announcer, the clearly-overjoyed Andy Richter. And first-guest Will Ferrell got off a few good moments, such as lambasting his fellow Tony Award nominee Liza Minelli as “a Communist.” And inaugural music guest Pearl Jam sounded good to me.

All in all, a large-scale, impressive debut. But we all know that success in late-night depends on the long haul — Conan knows this as well as anyone. So now I want to see how he follows up his glitzy debut.

How about you? Did you watch? What did you think of Conan’s first night?

You May Like