By Louis Allred

November 8 was a long-awaited day for millions of comedy fans everywhere: it was the premiere  of Conan O’Brien’s new talk show on TBS, simply titled “Conan.” It was to be a sort of proving ground – was there room in late night for another basic cable contender, and what would the TBS version of Conan’s show look like to those used to him with a network budget? Judging by his first batch of shows, it seems like O’Brien will do just fine.

The story of how O’Brien went from a 17-year run on NBC to a brand new show on TBS is now legend. In a perfect world, O’Brien would have remained at NBC hosting the “Tonight Show” after he took it over last summer. But NBC’s unwavering (and possibly irrational) devotion to Jay Leno led them to put the previous host in prime time as part of a bold new experiment in television, which, like many bold new experiments in television, was a giant failure. Wanting to keep both Leno and O’Brien on their side, NBC proposed moving “Tonight” to 12:05am, allowing for a half hour of… something from Leno. O’Brien, not wanting to budge any more for NBC, bowed out, and NBC returned Leno back to his original spot.

Questions arose regarding where O’Brien would wind up, and for a long time, the front-runner was Fox. But after Fox was unable to rally all their affiliates around the idea of a late-night show, O’Brien signed on to TBS. Seeing as how TBS had just entered the late night game with George Lopez only last year, it seemed like an odd place for O’Brien, but one that could be advantageous for both parties. TBS gets a comedy superstar to put them on the map, and O’Brien would be in charge of his own show, rather than simply host an established entity. Win/win.

So how did he do? The reviews have been all over the place. Some praised the show as a welcome return for a beloved host, while others (like the Washington Post) were much harsher, claiming “Conan” was a let-down after months of hype. I personally enjoyed the hell out of his first week. He hasn’t lost a step, playing well to his audience – an audience that now has a previously unseen devotion to him thanks to the NBC battle. He satirized his fight with NBC well, referencing the hit on Sonny from The Godfather, and devoting most of his monologue to jokes about his move to TBS. (“I’m happy to report that we’re already number 1 in TBS’s key demographic: people who can’t afford HBO.”) A hilarious taped bit had Ricky Gervais wishing Conan well on his new show, then, to save time, recording congratulations in advance for a series of worse and worse jobs. The interviews were fun, Conan and Andy’s rapport was back in full swing, and Conan’s surprise show-ending performance with friend Jack White showed that he’s having a blast at his new gig.

It baffles me, regarding some of the negative reviews of the show, how reviewers are reading what they see. In the Post review, the writer claimed that O’Brien looked worried and unhappy. I never got that at all. I saw a host happy to have an outlet to do what he enjoyed. And I can understand criticism that O’Brien kept beating the dead horse that is his battle with NBC. But it’s an integral reason why he’s on TBS in the first place; he couldn’t not acknowledge it. I think it all goes back to how someone feels about Conan’s comedy personally. Those who enjoyed the show seemed to be fans already; those who found problems with the show seemed to never have been on Conan’s side to begin with. It’s funny how the exact same program can look completely different to different people.

Maybe people were expecting Conan to come back with some form of experimental puppet theater, and were disappointed that it was simply a talk show. But that’s unreasonable; it was always going to be a talk show. It’s what he’s done, it’s what he’s good at. He may still be in a safer “Tonight Show” mode, but we’ll see how it plays out down the line. I think the biggest compliment you could give “Conan” is that his show on TBS plays almost the same as his shows on NBC, allaying any worry that somehow there would be a noticeable lack of quality with the move.

It’s a crowded field right now in late night, but it’s good to have Conan back in the thick of it.