Conan O'Brien's new show draws fans, not critics

Tue Nov 9, 2010 2:00pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien's return to television with a new late night program drew strong viewership but mixed reviews from critics on Tuesday who said its same old late-night talk format failed to inspire them.

O'Brien's new show "Conan," which premiered on Monday on cable network TBS, marked the once-embattled talk show host's return to U.S. TV after he was ousted from the coveted hosting duties on NBC's "The Tonight Show" in January and was replaced with its former star, comedian Jay Leno.

Sporting a trimmed beard, O'Brien drew some praise for his opening monologue, even though critics noted the 47-year-old predictably focused on his departure from NBC.

The move from broadcaster NBC which reaches a wide audience to TBS that caters to a more narrow group of viewers is widely seen as a step down in audience size, and O'Brien sarcastically joked that he had always dreamed of being a talk show host on cable TV "ever since I was 46."

Still, O'Brien's fans turned out in solid numbers. "Conan" was watched by 4.1 million total viewers, TBS said. Some 2.4 million were 18-34 years-old, confirming his appeal to younger viewers. Leno, by contrast, has been averaging 3.6 million total viewers this season so far, according to NBC.

"Conan delivered an extraordinary audience and stands out as the youngest late-night talk show on television," said Steve Koonin, president of TBS parent Turner Entertainment Networks.

Critics, however, were less than enthusiastic. Showbiz newspaper Daily Variety said while the opening jab at his former network was "funny stuff," O'Brien would do well in the future to "avoid looking like an object of self-pity."

"Once he got past the opening, very little in the premiere could be called inspired," Daily Variety said.   Continued...

<p>Comedian Conan O'Brien is shown on stage during the premiere of his new late night talk show on TBS 'Conan'at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California November 8, 2010 in this publicity photograph released by TBS. REUTERS/Meghan Sinclair/ Conaco LL/TBS/Handout</p>