Conan O’Brien’s debut as host of The Tonight Show, said Alan Sepinwall in New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger, “was essentially Late Night on a larger stage—a monologue, lots of filmed comedy pieces, and only one interview,” with comedian Will Ferrell (watch the interview, part 1 and part 2). Conan delivered his usual “oddball” comedy, “simultaneously reassuring his fans that he wasn't going to change" for his new gig, and introducing himself to the traditional Tonight Show audience.
If Conan’s first night is “any indication,” said Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times, he’s “not as interested in filling” Jay Leno’s “shoes as in buying a much newer pair.” His opening sketch (watch) was funny, ambitious, and definitely something “Leno would never, ever do.” And “between his jocular wingman Andy Richter” and musical guest Pearl Jam (watch their performance), O’Brien didn't go out of his way to court the “demographic that formed Leno's base.”
Conan did tone it down a bit—there was no sign of the Masturbating Bear, said Joshua Alston in Newsweek. But he doesn’t really “have to forfeit his comedic style or his younger-skewing audience.” Leno’s returning to the air soon with a new show, right before The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien. Then “the Sea-Bond set will be able to watch their guy" earlier, and those hungry for edgier comedy “can enjoy Conan a bit earlier too.”