Conan O'Brien

Art Streiber/TBS

New show, new network, same old problems?

The early numbers—and reviews—are in for Conan O'Brien's (latest) premiere night. And the returns are surprising. 

Ratings-wise, O'Brien's simply titled Conan dominated the late-night race. And, yes, that means the show—on basic cable (perhaps you heard O'Brien mention that factoid once or twice 2 million times last night?)—beat the big boys, David Letterman and old pal Jay Leno.

Conan averaged 4.2 million overall viewers. Letterman's Late Show came away with 3.4 million; Leno's Tonight Show, 3.3 million. Among young people, which in the now-geriatric late-night world usually means anyone under the age of death, Conan was an unusual draw. TBS said the median age of last night's Conan audience was a spry 30.  

Given the TV nation's love of all things shiny and new, including, say, last fall's premiere of The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien, Conan's first-night Nielsen success is not the surprising part.

No, the surprising part, provided you believe critics are in the tank for Team CoCo, was that critics were not in the tank for Team CoCo.

Movieline called the premiere "disappointing," and asked why the show couldn't be "the first Conan, instead of the tenth incarnation of The Tonight Show?" NPR's Monkey See blog made a similar point: "Nobody is watching Conan on TBS hoping to see a Leno/Letterman imitator," it chided. And count Entertainment Weekly among the vaguely unimpressed, too: "All in all, pleasant, if a bit underwhelming,"  it decided.

USA Today urged O'Brien to get on with it, and get over his breakup with NBC: "He's made millions. He'll make millions. Stop crying on the national shoulder."

Well, the ratings should buck him up. For a while, anyway. 

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