Conan O’Brien returned to the airwaves on Monday night, and he—and I—couldn’t be happier. After three nights, here are five observations:
1. The bearded O’Brien looks happier than ever. I always thought he looked uncomfortable on The Tonight Show, so frankly, I stopped watching. (Maybe he shared my foreboding about that whole thing.) And it’s nice to have Andy Richter out from behind that announcer’s podium and back on the couch, where he belongs.
2. The set looks scary huge. The big-screen effects behind his desk are amusing; it was fun to see Tom Hanks getting drenched by a whale “breaching” in the “ocean” (starting at minute 7:30 below) on Night 2. Conan’s close proximity to his adoring audience raises the excitement level, too, and I hope he embraces the opportunities there.
3. His pal Jon Stewart must have winced a bit the next day. Stewart nudged past Leno and Letterman in the October ratings thanks to the big momentum he’s been rolling on since he announced that D.C. rally. And then—BAM!—along comes Conan, and he clobbers them all.
4. Jay, and maybe even Dave, just became several degrees less relevant. I say “less relevant” because I reluctantly include the still very funny Letterman in that assessment. Forget Leno: He’s ir-relevant. Ah, sweet revenge.
5. It’s not the best late-night talk show. Jimmy Fallon’s 12:35 a.m. show on NBC has the best musical guests, the funniest skits, the best celebrity impressions and the most creative ideas for integrating the audience and guests into the fun (beer pong with Betty White, anyone?). That’s cool; Conan has his work cut out for him, and now that he’s no longer trying to court Leno’s lame audience, the long, lanky clown enjoys some much-needed leg room.