With all the chatter about the changeover from Leno to Conan, I needed to venture out to Universal and see the newest incarnation of “The Tonight Show” with my own two eyes. My friend and fellow media vulture Claire had the hook-up and after a slight hiccup with the parking guard, we found ourselves seated in the audience of the brand spanking new studio “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” now calls home.
Since we were told to arrive at least one hour early, we had time to look at the studio – but only from our seats. The show is run in a very efficient, almost militaristic fashion. Once you’re seated in the audience, you can’t get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Cell phones must be turned off and no texting or Twittering is allowed (horrors!). Though I was hoping to tweet from the festivities, it made sense that they didn’t want glowing Blackberry screens on camera when they got shots of the audience.
After about an hour, Jimmy Pardo came out to warm up the audience and he killed! Aside from doing stand-up and acting roles, Pardo has a very popular iTunes podcast called "Never Not Funny" and watching him with the audience illustrated this motto: he’s quick, witty, and equally adept with locals and tourists who come to the show. I’ve been to countless tapings and Pardo is a rarity among warm-up guys: he actually got the audience in a better mood and more excited about being there. I hope they’re paying him well because he’s earning the big dollar out there.
Pardo introduced Andy Richter and as I’ve stated in earlier posts, Andy doesn’t have much to do right now. It’s great to see him there but I’m still hoping they’ll incorporate him into the show more. Andy welcomed everyone and introduced the Tonight Show Band, formerly known as the Max Weinberg 7. I’ve loved the band from the start of Conan’s show and seeing them live was a real treat. They pumped the audience up even more with jazz-inflected boogie-woogie and upped the fun quotient considerably. The band was definitely a highlight for me!
Then it was showtime and Conan came out to a standing ovation and an eager audience.
After a brief monologue, Conan segued to a very funny filmed piece where he visited a Foley stage at Universal and worked with a Foley artist to do sound effects for a scene from "Law & Order." After the break, Conan created his own Tabloid Moment by creating a scandalous picture he could sell to the tabloids himself and keep the money. Next it was guest time with Gwyneth Paltrow, who wore a dress that looked like mesh chain mail and some seriously cruel heels. Paltrow is in killer shape thanks to her trainer Tracy Anderson (they’re opening a pricey gym together in NYC) and she looks more like a movie star than a typical mother of two. Speaking of moms, Conan’s wife Liza was roaming around with their son Beckett, an adorable tow-headed three year old. Didn’t see their daughter though; maybe she was hanging out backstage.
Joel McHale, host of “The Soup,” E!’s popular weekly roundup of reality shows, came out next and told a very funny story about his four year old son’s ability to hit on women. I was happy to see McHale on “The Tonight Show” because he’ll be getting his primetime shot on the new NBC comedy “Community” starting in the fall. I’ve been a “Soup” fan for some time and after seeing the “Community” pilot, I can honestly say that McHale is the real deal when it comes to comedy.
Finally, it was time for musical guest The John Mayer Trio. As they performed a cover of "California Dreamin’" with the Los Angeles Children’s Choir singing backup, all I could think was that John Mayer really wants to be Jimi Hendrix. If you saw last night’s show, you know what I mean. After the show close, Conan told the audience the trio was going to do one more song – if we each forked over 30 bucks. The trio launched into "Who Did You Think I Was" which closed out the show on a rockin’ note.
The ever-diligent NBC pages showed the audience out and as we emerged into the daylight, they handed us cards telling us how to get personalized badges to place on our Facebook profile, blog, or website, which immediately made me flash on Denis Leary’s Hulu ad where he says "then you can share your TV shows with your bliggity blogs and your FaceySpaceys and your Tweetie pages." I’m almost ashamed to tell you that I immediately started Twittering about the show once I was out of the building. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @thesurfreport.
Overall, I had a terrific time at “The Tonight Show,” even if the constant supervision made me feel a bit like a grade schooler on a field trip. Be sure to visit if you get the chance because Conan and the band are well worth the effort and you will definitely see the magic of television as you watch the show happen live and in person.