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Conan returns with familiar content, jabs at NBC

The last time we saw Conan O’Brien on TV, he was caught up in a bitter feud with NBC over his now-defunct role as host of the prestigious “Tonight Show,” a feud that rightly divided America in a pop culture battle of epic proportions. Team Coco and Team Leno became buzzwords among late-night TV fans, often appearing in Facebook status updates and angry tweets among the “Twitterati.”

Last night O’Brien returned to TV with his new nightly show “Conan,” airing Monday through Thursday at 11:00 p.m. on TBS. While it offered nothing completely unique from his former television stint, it followed the previous show’s formula well enough to keep the adoring “Coco-Nuts” happy.

Conan started his series premiere where his “Tonight Show” drama left off, offering a satirical explanation of the now-infamous events that utilized spoofs from “The Godfather” and included Jon Hamm in character as Don Draper from “Mad Men.” Needless to say, it was brilliantly hilarious and started off the series on the proper, goofy foot.

His choice of guests gave a clear picture of exactly who the show is targeting: the young Millenials who welcomed the defeated NBC host a year ago with open arms and raised him to pop icon status with the help of social media buzz. Seth Rogen, Lea Michelle and Jack White graced the brand new set of “Conan” and participated in the usual, late-night conversational fare.

Quirky sidekick Andy Richter, who went down with the “Tonight Show” ship alongside O’Brien last year, returned to his role as announcer and comedic partner in crime. This type of familiarity of content has caused “Conan” to feel very much like an extension of what O’Brien had already built on NBC. While this might disappoint some, most will be content with the mix of sketch comedy, celebrity discussions and musical performances.

Jack White, of The White Stripes fame, delivered the show’s musical flair, but not without help from the host. Fans who had not attended O’Brien’s successful comedy tour quickly learned that he was both comedically and musically inclined, giving them a taste of his guitar playing and singing in a rocking blues performance.

While O’Brien’s television fate is anything but secure, you can count on his TBS show lasting at least through the near future. If nothing else, “Conan” furthers the discussion of whether late-night talk shows can break out of the network stranglehold and survive on basic cable.

George Lopez was one of the first to break the barrier with “Lopez Tonight,” which immediately follows “Conan.” Despite being a flop with critics, “Lopez Tonight” has attracted enough viewers for TBS to legitimize a second season.

“Conan” could be the very jumpstart O’Brien’s career needed, allowing him the same freedom of content enjoyed by other cable hosts like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Or it could fail to attract the core audience necessary once the pop culture buzz subsides.

After all, the very thing that made O’Brien so popular was the fact that he did not have a show. Now that he settles in with television viewers again, the very best he can hope for is better success for “Conan” and new recruits for Team Coco.