David Letterman had a few gags about tonight's premiere of "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien," according to the New York Times' Bill Carter:
Having just returned from a vacation week, Mr. Letterman opened with some observations about the news from NBC. “I’m still here,” Mr. Letterman told his audience. “I knocked off another competitor.”So what did the critics think? The show hasn't aired yet on the West Coast, but a few TV writers have already weighed in with their reactions.
Mr. Letterman said his mother had called him to say, “Well David, I see you didn’t get the ‘Tonight’ show again.” And when he said he told his Mom that he had Bill Cosby as his guest, his mother said: “OK, maybe I’ll switch from Conan.”
USA Today's Robert Bianco called Conan's first "Tonight" "a bit more frantic than the O'Brien norm, which is what you'd expect from a high-profile debut. Even so, if you like what he does — and I do — odds are you'll be happy for the chance to see him do it an hour earlier," adding that the broadcast "wasn't O'Brien at his funniest, but it was funny enough to get by."
The Edmonton Sun's Bill Harris gave thumbs down to announcer Andy Richter, saying and former O'Brien sidekick's "fake laughter was a real distraction during O'Brien's monologue, so hopefully Richter will tone down his forced ha-ha's, or at least learn to shut the hell up if he isn't laughing for real."
Time's James Poniewozik said O'Brien's first monologue was "sharp if not gut-busting," calling the show "a funny hour overall." Poniewozik believes O'Brien will keep his old fans, but has little hope of winning over the Leno diehards. "The Conan we saw on stage last night knows that he's the big man at the big desk, leading the big show. But he also seems to know that staying there will mean staying true to the oddball comedy writer who ambled onto NBC 16 years ago."
The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik had one of the more negative reactions: the premiere was "a good one -- if you like canned video clips rather than topical humor. Otherwise, there wasn't much to get excited about." His Universal Studios tour bit "seemed mostly silly -- and went on forever." "My guess as to why he went with canned videos rather than a monologue is because the pre-produced tape is far safer," wrote Zurawik. "But a host who launches his new career by opting for the safe, is not someone I'm going to praise."
The Hollywood Reporter's Randee Dawn also remarked on the plethora of taped pieces, calling the show "a debut episode designed for those with ADD." Unabashed Conan fan Nathan Rabin of the Onion's AV Club said the premiere was "comfort food for Late Night fans jonesing hardcore for Conesy and his vaguely obsessive-compulsive tics and mannerisms... In his very first outing, Conan struck a nice balance between appeasing old fans like myself and courting new ones."