Just nine months after getting yanked off the air by NBC, Conan O’Brien debuted his new TBS talk show Conan last night to massive ratings: 4.16 million people watched the show, with an average viewer age of just 30. The Daily Show, which regularly averages 1.8 million viewers and airs at the same time, was down to 1.3 million. In the coming days and weeks O’Brien’s numbers will almost certainly come back down to earth, at which point he will go head-to-head with Stewart. Jay Leno and David Letterman both air 30 minutes after Conan begins, making direct comparisons between their numbers mostly meaningless.
The episode ended with a musical performance by O’Brien’s longtime friend Jack White, who performed Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” with the newly christened Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band, and Conan himself on guitar. (E Street drummer Max Weinberg has been replaced by James Wormworth.) Tonight Soundgarden make their first TV appearance since re-forming earlier this year.
Reviews were mostly strong. The AV Club gave it a B+, saying that it “felt very much like a blend of his work on Late Night and The Tonight Show except finally free of any big bullshit from bosses or affiliates.” The Los Angeles Times awarded it four out of five stars: “The first lines of this new chapter were promising,” wrote. “If not quite the fulfillment of his last wild nights at NBC when caution was thrown to the wind.”
The Washington Post
‘s Hank Stuever was a rare dissenting voice. “Conan’s” debut seemed like it had been written hastily on Post-it notes, rather than the showing off the under-appreciated genius that its host has been fostering during his temporary television exile,” Stuever wrote. “He’s not the future of comedy or the savior of all hipsterdom. He’s a man at a desk, making jokes about himself while making chitchat with other famous people. Is it possible we have too much collective cultural energy invested in this strange art form?”