Conan O’Brien Zings NBC, Brings Laughs During TBS Debut

'I'm happy to report that we're already #1 in TBS' key demographic -- people who can't afford HBO," talk-show host quipped on his first night back.

Never forget. That was the unmistakable message Conan O’Brien delivered during his inaugural TBS broadcast. If one thought he would have turned the page on his contretemps with NBC, one was disabused of that notion within seconds, as “Conan” kicked off with a video bit reconfiguring his “Tonight Show” ouster as something out of “The Godfather,” complete with machine-gun-happy execs shooting down the floppy-haired comedian.

It was a funny bit, no doubt — the whole show, in fact, was pretty darn funny — but Coco didn’t leave his comedic vitriol there, and the result was, at times, a bitter and condescending talk-show host.

“And things are going well already,” he joked during his opening monologue. “I’m happy to report that we’re already #1 in TBS’ key demographic — people who can’t afford HBO.”

Yes, Conan, we know you find the idea of being on basic cable a gas, but must you mock it so relentlessly, again and again throughout your first hour? There’s a guy on TBS just after you who’s not only happy to have a TBS show but who moved his program back an hour to accommodate you. One wonders how George Lopez was feeling as he watched “Conan” unfold.

But let’s cut O’Brien some slack, OK? Lopez probably did. It was his first show back after months wandering the entertainment wilderness, and if he took his NBC bashing a bit too far, he can be forgiven. Surely a week from now, his entire monologue won’t be devoted to zinging his old network or his new home. Last night, though, it was, and it worked, as far as laughs were concerned.

“But the weird thing is this: I put myself and my staff through a lot because I refused to go on at midnight,” he said during the breezy, eight-joke opener. “So I get this job at 11. Then, yesterday, daylight savings time ended — so right now it’s basically midnight. In fact, it’s 12:05.”

From there, Conan answered one of the burning questions heading into his TBS tenure: Would the host be able to use any signature bits from his NBC days? As soon as the Masturbating Bear sauntered onscreen during a video segment, we knew the truth: At least some of his material has escaped the clutches of NBC intellectual property lawyers. We’ll have to wait and see if other classic bits similarly made the cut.

Conan’s new set recalled his most recent one, filled with warm wood tones and electric blue screens. This time around, the entire back wall was transformed into a giant blue ocean, complete with a moon that O’Brien can move via remote control. Missing on the set was a couch, which producers ditched in favor of a few chairs. Sidekick Andy Richter, who had been relegated to a podium during “The Tonight Show,” was back sitting next to Conan and stayed in position during the guest segments.

About those guest segments. After some serious buildup in which Conan asked fans to vote on the show’s first guest — Justin Bieber? Pope Benedict XVI? — the winner was … Arlene Wagner? Miss Wagner is the founder of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, and was promptly swept onto and off of the stage with nary a word exchanged with the host. Note to show producers: Don’t bring the hype if you’re not going to deliver, and, say, bring Jack Nicholson out for his first late-night interview in 40 years.

From there, Conan welcomed Seth Rogen, who cycled through some ho-hum material (Getting engaged is strange! Pot is awesome!). “Glee” star Lea Michele followed him, and White Stripes frontman Jack White finished off the show, alongside Conan, as the duo busted out a hard-charging rockabilly tune.

And like that, it was over. Conan is back on TV, and all seems once again whole in the entertainment universe. Where Coco goes from here — whether he can ever forget, or if he even wants to — remains to be seen.

Sitting at his desk next to White and Richter, O’Brien signed off with a simple, “That was fast!”

What did you think of Conan’s first night back on the airwaves? Tell us in the comments.