"No one thought you could do it….No one, not one person," said Will Ferrell to Conan O’Brien last night. Ferrell was O’Brien’s first guest on The Tonight Show and set the tone for much of the humor on the first show. The writers milked the move from New York to Los Angeles for all it was worth: In one bit, O’Brien vowed he’d never sell-out and then cruised L.A. wearing dark shades in his Ford, Taurus. In another, O’Brien swiped the letter "D" from the "HOLLYWOOD" sign and revealed it to demonstrate the expansiveness of his new L.A. studio. O’Brien joked that no one would even notice the new "HOLLYWOO" sign and introduced the the number, "Horray for Hollywoo!"
It’s doubtful that O’Brien’s writers consciously realized it, but the latter bit was eerily similar to one from the old It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. On the old episode, Garry’s neighbor’s teenage kid has a crush on a girl, but can’t summon up the guts to tell her. Depressed, he sulks in the Hollywood Hills where he reveals to Garry the girl’s name: Lilly Woo. Of course, Garry gets the idea of removing the "D" from "WOOD" and of transforming the "H" and "O" to an "L" and "I" and, yes, a song-and-dance number "Horray for Lilly Woo!" ensues.
It’s doubtful that anyone in O’Brien’s studio audience was a big enough dork to know about the Shandling bit. In fact, I spent about a half an hour searching for the scene online, but came up empty-handed. The reason I think this is important, however, is that I fear that last night’s oversight might signal something about the new show’s priorities and who they think their audience will be. While, I’m ready to give it plenty more chances, I worry that the show will lose something now that it has been liberated from it’s cramped Rockefeller Center confines.
It’s safe to say that the more nuanced humor from the show went over the head of the Los Angeles audience. Frighteningly, they gave a bigger response to Will Ferrell shouting "U.S.A., U.S.A…" than when he wryly described his _Land of the Lost_ character as "quantum paleontologist." Here’s to the hope that my favorite late night personality is not about to enter his own land of the lost….