Former “Late Night” host and recent pop-culture superstar Conan O’Brien made his highly anticipated return to television Monday night with the premiere of his new series on TBS. The new show, simply titled “Conan,” closely follows the format of his previous talk shows by combining opening monologues, prerecorded skits, celebrity guests and musical acts.
Even though it’s been 10 months since O’Brien last graced the nation’s television sets, he took control of the studio floor again with only the slightest trace of nervousness. For viewers who watched O’Brien in the past, the only noteworthy differences with this new show are the larger, more open set — complete with a controllable background moon — and the new house band.
Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band replaced the Max Weinberg 7, which previously played for O’Brien’s show. While talented, very little focus was given to the band, with the producers wisely choosing to focus on O’Brien instead.
The series kicked things off with a mock “previously on” segment, which served to catch viewers up on O’Brien’s widely publicized departure from NBC earlier this year, albeit with a “Godfather”-inspired dramatized spin on the events.
From there, O’Brien launched into one of his trademark opening monologues, which proved the writing staff on the show is just as sharp as ever. Despite taking numerous pot shots at NBC, O’Brien’s jokes never felt stale or repetitive — something that sets him apart from most talk show hosts and explains his enduring popularity.
O’Brien introduced Seth Rogen as his first celebrity guest around the midway point of the premiere. Rogen, who was visiting primarily to promote his upcoming film “The Green Hornet,” was a safe guest choice for kicking off the series. He is popular enough to garner viewers and comfortable enough to allow the interview to ease through any potential hiccups that could have arisen. Rogen also provided a number of solid laughs as he recounted his recent proposal, allowing for plenty of witty banter between himself, O’Brien and returning sidekick Andy Richter.
If the episode had any genuinely sore spot, it was the interview with the second celebrity guest Lea Michele, star of the hit Fox series “Glee.” O’Brien’s skill as a talk show host shined through during this awkward interview, as he deftly handled Michele’s less-than-enthusiastic responses to her recent, controversial GQ photoshoot. While Michele was not so much a difficult guest as she was an uncomfortable one, O’Brien managed to make the best of the interview and garner some laughter from the audience, while not drawing too much attention to his guest’s obvious awkwardness.
The premiere wrapped things up with a special musical performance by Jack White, accompanied by O’Brien himself. White delivered a strong performance and sat down for a brief, insightful interview where it was revealed that O’Brien and White recently recorded an album together. Their friendship may lead to more appearances by White on the show in the future, or at the very least, open the door for other notable musical acts to perform.
Overall, “Conan” is off to a strong start. As is the case with virtually all new talk shows, it will take a week or two before things really get smoothed out and running properly. However, if O’Brien is able to keep his signature style of humor just as sharp and poignant as ever, then it will be well worth the wait for this show to find its footing.

4 out of 5 stars