O’Brien takes over ‘The Tonight Show’

Conan O’Brien kicked off his new gig on "The Tonight Show" with a mad cross-country dash from New York to Los Angeles, seemingly forgetting the last item on his check list — "Move to LA."

So started the latest round of silliness for the fifth host of NBC’s venerable late night television franchise. “I’ve timed this moment perfectly,” O’Brien deadpanned in his opening monologue. “I’m on a last-place network, I moved to a state that’s bankrupt, and tonight’s show is sponsored by General Motors.” This version of “The Tonight Show” harkens back a generation in style and appearance to Johnny Carson’s version. Old buddy Andy Richter is back as sidekick announcer after leaving in the early years of “Late Night,” the show O’Brien hosted for 16 years in New York, and Max Weinberg returns as band leader.

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Opening night was filled with many gags and high-profile guests, including Pearl Jam and Will Ferrell, who was carried in by Egyptian throne bearers. Jay Leno ended his 17-year reign as host Friday, but will be back in the fall with a new prime-time show. The new show is expected have some of the same elements as “The Tonight Show,” but with some new features. “The Tonight Show” debuted in 1954 with Steve Allen as host, followed by Jack Parr. But it wasn’t until Johnny Carson took the reins in 1962 that the show became a fixture and the standard bearer in late night talk shows. Carson retired in 1992 and was replaced by Leno.