In Depth

Conan's 'Late Night' Theme Being Adapted for 'Tonight'

The new theme song for "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" will have a familiar ring to it.

That's because Mr. O'Brien and executive producer Jeff Ross have opted to use a reworked version of Mr. O'Brien's 16-year-old "Late Night" musical open as the theme song for the new incarnation of "Tonight." Mr. Ross confirmed the decision Monday during an interview with TVWeek.

"We liked it. It worked," Mr. Ross said of Mr. O'Brien's "Late Night" theme. "We thought it we just embellished it a little bit, it would work perfectly for 'The Tonight Show.'"

The theme was revamped by Jimmy Vivino and Max Weinberg, longtime members of Mr. O'Brien's "Late Night" house band, the Max Weinberg 7.

Mr. Ross revealed that James Wormworth, a frequent substitute performer in the old Max Weinberg 7, is joining the late-night show as a permanent member of the house band. The new group will be known as Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band.

While instantly recognizable to anyone who's heard it before, the new "Tonight Show" theme has a less manic feel to it, particularly during its opening chords. Perhaps befitting the largeness of the "Tonight Show" franchise, the beginning notes boast a grander tone.

The reworked song will be performed over the new "Tonight Show" opening titles. While "Late Night" featured animation during its open, Mr. Ross said Mr. O'Brien's "Tonight Show" will utilize a live-action open. He declined to give details in advance of the show's June 1 debut.

"It will look, hopefully, good," Mr. Ross deadpanned.

The theme and opening titles are all part of an effort to give the new "Tonight Show" a "elegant feel," as Mr. O'Brien recently told TVWeek.

"I wanted it to look like a really high-end steak restaurant," he said. "I want people salivating when I'm in the monologue."

Mr. O'Brien's goal with the set was to acknowledge his New York talkshow roots, while recognizing the shift to Los Angeles. The solution: A deco feel via several subtle touches in the studio, including a mural across the top of the stage featuring Los Angeles icons as they might have appeared in the 1920s and 30s.

"It's 30 Rock, but it's this cool, Los Angeles version of it," he said.

There's also some whimsy to the set. The L.A. icons appearing in the skyline that will be seen behind Mr. O'Brien's guests are in no particular geographical order. As a result, the Wiltern Theater appears to be west of the Santa Monica Pier and the Capitol Records building.

And, in another subtle nod to his New York past, careful observers of the backdrop used for Mr. O'Brien's band will notice the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building adorning ... the Los Angeles skyline.

"It was Conan's idea," Mr. Ross said. "It's an homage to New York."

During his interview with TVWeek, Mr. O'Brien betrayed little nervousness over his pending takeover of "Tonight."

"I'm in a very serene state of denial," he said. "They've told me it's June 1, 2011, which has helped me stay very calm. I've been hypnotized into believing I've got two years left to prepare."

One reason why Mr. O'Brien seems somewhat calm in advance of his 11:35 debut is the fact that he's been readying for the role over the past five years, part of an evolution in Mr. O'Brien's TV personality that's taken place over the past 15-odd years.

"The biggest misperception is that suddenly [I am] shifting from 1993 'Late Night' to 2009 'Tonight Show,'" he said. "Well, no. There's a Conan that hosted the show in 1998 that's different than 1993. And there's a Conan who hosted the Emmys twice, who had to grow and adjust to do that. There have been specific phases you go through.

"In the last two years of "Late Night," we really changed and expanded Act 1," Mr. O'Brien added. "We'd do full-blown sketches from the monologue. If people haven't been paying attention, and they tune in again in early June, they might think, 'Oh, he completely, radically changed himself.'

"Well, no I didn't," he said. "It's been a long time coming."

The full transcript of TVWeek's interview with Conan O'Brien is set to appear in the June 1 issue of the magazine.