O’Brien opens strong for The Tonight Show

One of the least explanatory ways to describe anything is You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.” The online judgments after Conan’s first Tonight Show performance were definitely polarized, even understanding that the adjective “polarizing” is typically redundant in reference to internet arguing.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this has to do with the attachment people feel to the personalities that have been a religious part of their evenings for years at a time. Amateur students of interpersonal dynamics know that laughter helps breed familiarity. Combine that with a long-term relationship, and powerful bonds will be formed. So it makes sense that many of us hate to see Leno go. After all, he’s been captaining us across late night seas for seventeen years now.

Not much can be done to smooth the transition for Leno’s biggest fans, but NBC has done its best to prime Conan’s core audience for the changeover with the three month hiatus.

When it was announced in 2004 that Conan O’Brien was moving to take over The Tonight Show, five years seemed like a long wait for those of us wanting to see our favorite late-night host get his dues paid. Conan’s irreverent, self-deprecating humor has always taken more chances than similar broadcasts, edging toward non-sequitur, so-called “random” humor and improvisation long before those became current comedic trends.

While the writer-turned-host surrounds himself with competent writers, the comic’s method of delivery makes all the difference in the world. The “character” of Conan O’Brien is central to the show, whether he’s performing a bit or not.

Many think Conan won’t be able to pick up Leno’s older audiences with his idiosyncratic personalities, but overall it doesn’t seem like a large problem (it’s Conan’s 18-34 audience that has other late-night viewing options, not older folks).

All Conan really needs to do is keep Leno-inclined folks from turning off the TV after the news, a low hurdle that’s twice as doable considering The Tonight Show is traditionally background noise for many households in the first place; so Conan’s ahead of the game even before you factor in his talent.

These things in mind, he seems to be holding steady through his first few shows. Conan’s first five shows were booked with home-run personalities like Will Ferrell and Tom Hanks in addition to some surprisingly generous musical performers.

But Late Night with Conan O’Brien proved, the man’s best moments have little to do with planned acts. Here’s looking forward to plenty of those moments in a hopefully successful future for Mr. O’Brien at 11:30 p.m.