In the opening moments of “Conan,” his brand new talk show on TBS Monday night, the vertically blessed late night host quickly quieted his applauding audience.
“Please, sit down!” Conan O’Brien cautioned. “We don’t know how much time I’m gonna get here. That lasted longer than my last job! Welcome to my second annual first show.”
The joke, like the filmed “Last Season on Conan” opening, was a dig at former boss NBC. The hilarious opening film chronicled O’Brien’s bullet-riddled departure from his cherished “Tonight” show gig, ending up working everywhere from Burger King (“I asked for more sweet and sour sauce. That’s like seven forks!”) to applying for a job in front of Jon Hamm‘s “Mad Men” Don Draper character who tersely tells him: “You have no advertising experience. Plus, its 1965. You’re two.”
Preparing to leap from a bridge, CNN veteran Larry King appears sporting a set of wings, telling the under-employed talk show host: “Two words: Basic cable.”
Replies O’Brien: “Larry King as my guardian angel?! But you’re not dead.” Larry to Conan: “Never mind that.”
Finally, Conan appears in a TBS board room where executives slide him an offer that reads: “Less.” He unfolds the top of the page to reveal “Much.”
Old O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter is along for the ride (trying on an unlicensed Conan Halloween mask, “Ex-Talk Show,” Richter retorts: “It’s very authentic. It smells like tears in here”).
Gone, however, is the Max Weinberg 7, replaced by Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band.
First guest Seth Rogen kicked the tires of basic cable’s more relaxed late-night language policies by repeatedly dropping the brown word and making references to parts of his fiance’s anatomy.
“Glee” star Lea Michele and rocker Jack White rounded out the guest list for the first show which already feels at home on the TBS airwaves.
Unlike the more buttoned up corporate feel of O’Brien’s abbreviated “Tonight” show stint, “Conan” allows O’Brien and his younger targeted demographic to wallow in his trademark smart subversive comedy. Exhibit A: Monday night’s debut included a cameo by O’Brien’s old “Late Night” character, The Masturbating Bear who apparently has a new gig as a ball handler for the Maryland Mega Millions Lottery drawings…).
Weirdly, throughout his very public tussles with NBC, O’Brien became a sort of Everyman spokesperson for millions of Americans currently being abused by out of touch corporate suits more focused on the crumbling bottom line than quality or integrity. In TBS, O’Brien has found a cooler boss who is only too happy to welcome his self-referential wit to their workplace.
It’s a safe hunch that O’Brien’s loyal members of Team Coco will follow him to his new hipper basic cable home, too.