It’s hard to believe that Conan O’Brien has had a late night talk show for 20 years. Granted, he’s had three of them: Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and Conan, but that’s still no easy feat. He could have gone the way of Pat Sajak and Chevy Chase a long time ago. Actually, that was expected of him. Very few critics foresaw Conan having a long career and many, as demonstrated in this review from Entertainment Weekly, were unnecessarily harsh. It didn’t help that they were fueled by NBC’s decision to renew Conan’s Late Night contract on a weekly basis.
In hindsight, it is hard to watch Conan’s first night as host of Late Night, especially knowing the terrible treatment he received. Even hardcore Conan fans have to admit, on his first night, he was very green. To be fair, Conan did acknowledge it in a funny way and immediately addressed the fact that everyone kept hounding him with some variation of “better be as good as Letterman.” Conan had potential and viewers were willing to give him a chance, even though his bosses only kept renewing his contract because they had nothing else to throw on the air.