Conan O'Brien described the uphill battle he faces as the fifth host of the Tonight show with the very first line of his monologue Monday night "Well, I've timed this moment perfectly. I'm on a last place network, I moved to a state that's bankrupt, and tonight's show is sponsored by General Motors." He also faces mounting competition from ABC's Nightline , which see-saws with CBS's Late Show With David Letterman , for second place in the late-night competition -- and usually wins these days -- and Letterman himself, who opened his show Monday night by remarking, "I'm Dave Letterman. I'm still here. I knocked off another competitor." Reviews for the new Tonight were largely favorable, although most critics commented that O'Brien appeared nervous on stage. Robert Bianco in USA Today noted that while the show appeared "more richly produced" than his previous one, "if you like what he does -- and I do -- odds are you'll be happy for the chance to see him do it an hour earlier. ... All in all," he concluded, "O'Brien got his Tonight off to a decent start." In the New York Daily News , TV critic David Hinckley remarked, "Conan made it subtly clear that the new kid in town will be a little naughtier and that for better or worse Tonight is now his ride." On the other hand, critic Linda Stasi wrote in the New York Post that much of O'Brien's material was "painfully unfunny." Watching O'Brien's interview with Will Ferrell, whose comedy, she said, "turned excruciating," she began feeling "Leno deprivation." Still, she concluded, "Conan fans won't be disappointed."

02/06/2009