Nearly five years after he was first announced as the new host of “The Tonight Show,” Conan O’Brien finally took to the show’s new Universal Studios stage on Monday night.
Trading “OK” signs with his one-time “Late Night” sidekick Andy Richter – who now serves as O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” announcer — the new 11:35 p.m. host came out to a standing ovation and an audience chanting his name.
“I have to admit, I think I’ve timed this moment perfectly,” O’Brien told the crowd. “I’m on the last place network, I’ve moved to a state that’s bankrupt and tonight’s show is sponsored by General Motors.”
Noting that he had brought along his “Late Night” band leader Max Weinberg to the new show (where Weinberg now leads the “Tonight Show Band”) and Richter, O’Brien quipped, “It’s like a Backstreet Boys reunion here… only not as good.”
O’Brien centered several of his gags around his move to Los Angeles – promising, for example, that nothing has changed – before launching into Spanish.
“My name is now Conando,” he joked.
He then noted that the new “Tonight Show” studio holds 380 audience members – or “the exact same number as a Clippers game.” Later, he also showed a self-deprecating video of his new Laker seats – up in the nosebleeds.
Later, O’Brien took a moment to thank predecessor Jay Leno, who signed off from “The Tonight Show” on Friday.
“He took very good care of this franchise,” O’Brien said. “He’s been a very good friend to me, I’m looking forward to him being our lead-in once again.”
O’Brien also gagged, “He’s going to be coming back on the air in, I think, two days, three days tops.”
The host also mentioned the man who defined “Tonight,” Johnny Carson, noting that “I remember watching Johnny Carson as a kid and remembering, that’s what I want to be when I grow up. I’m sure somewhere right now in America, there’s a little kid watching me and thinking, ‘What is wrong with that man’s hair? Is that even a man?’”
First episode was filled with several taped packages, some set to music. The opening kicked off with O’Brien going down a “Tonight Show” checklist – and then realizing he’d forgotten to move to Los Angeles.
Cut to O’Brien running across America – including Amish Country, Wrigley Field, the St. Louis Arch, the Rockies and Las Vegas – to the tune of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”
Later, in another bit, O’Brien noted that he hadn’t yet bought into L.A.’s car culture, and still drove the same 1992 Ford Taurus. That led to a video of O’Brien driving his ancient car around town to the tune of Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car.”
For the opener, “Tonight” also included a packaged bit in which O’Brien took over a Universal Studios tram tour – and later took the tram off the lot, and to a 99 Cents Only Store.
O’Brien’s first night guests were Will Ferrell — who came out on a throne, carried by four shirtless men, dressed as ancient Egyptians — and Pearl Jam.
“This is so incredible because no one thought you could do it,” Ferrell told O’Brien. “Literally no one, not one person, and yet you’re here.”
“Tonight” opened with an homage to classic NBC, utilizing the classic “This show is brought to you in living color on NBC” network I.D. that used to air before every program in the 1960s.