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This summer, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve overheard a line like, “Oh, I love Conan, but to be honest, I haven’t been watching [The Tonight Show].” Conan’s ratings, which continue to fall and have been widely scrutinized in the media, reflect this trend. Today, it was announced that The Late Show with David Letterman has bested The Tonight Show for four consecutive weeks, a record dating back to 1995. What I find curious about these aforementioned statements from fans, besides their frequency, is that so often they express guilt. Many 20somethings share a bond with Conan O’Brien incomparable to any late night host, and by not watching, it stings of geek treason. But these lounging confessions also pack a subtle tinge of Nikki Finke-like cutthroat satisfaction, and this is what I find most worrisome in terms of the long haul. Why is this?

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The debut of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien ended just minutes ago, with Will Ferrell as the sole guest (nice entrance), music by Pearl Jam (good choice for the youngs?), and Andy Richter adding a welcome, if plentiful, laugh track. Also: myriad Choco Taco jokes. The show began with Conan—his red wave on high—introducing a pre-taped segment in which he sprinted in a suit from New York to his new HQ in L.A. on the Universal lot. His soundtrack? Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”

For the most part, Conan played it safe with the transition. There was a bit of his signature hyper-giddiness schtick per the takeover, but no big surprises or real inventiveness. His monologue even contained a flat L.A. Clippers joke that too closely mirrored one (of thousands) that Jay Leno phoned in during his womp-womp send-off last week. (Though Leno’s final monologue tribute to Rodney Dangerfield was respectable.) For me the two highlights tonight were the new set, which looks huge on the tube and incredibly classy in high-def, and knowing that The Chin is finally gone…albeit still on NBC in an earlier slot.

Unlike Ferrell, who proclaimed that Conan’s success was a “crapshoot,” we think he’ll do fine. What did you think? How do you foresee Conan, his hair, Andy and Max doing in the months and years ahead?

Editor’s Note: I’ve included a video of the show’s opening after the jump.

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The NYT has a massive feature on Conan O’Brien taking over the reins of The Tonight Show. We haven’t had a chance to check it out just yet, but it includes the first look above at the set that will appear on millions of TVs (and broken grads’ monitors) for years to come. Conan makes his debut in the NBC slot on June 1st with guest Will Ferrell and musical act Pearl Jam.

First impression: it isn’t straying too far from the iconic, classic days of Johnny Carson or the lesser ones of Leno. Here’s a funny quote from Conan from the feature per the design: “I said, I don’t want a desk made of onyx and baboon skulls.” Let us know what you think below. In addition, am I the only one who thinks it would be a sly move on David Letterman’s part to hire Norm MacDonald as a wing-man to create extra fireworks against Big Red? Norm’s recent guest spot on The Late Show was nearly as badass as his uncensored stint on Howard Stern. Time will tell.

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“My face stayed like this permanently. Isn’t it funny?”

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As you may have heard, the word is out that Jimmy Fallon, the SNL alum and general entertainment phantasm, will be taking over as host of Conan O’Brien‘s Late Night on NBC in 2009. This will put Fallon head to head with CBS’s “TV’s Craig Ferguson,” who has ascended in the ratings and in the funnay-ness as of late. Does a great Aquaman, too. And of course, Conan takes over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, putting him against one David Letterman.

Unless you’re sponsored by Ambien, I’m sure everyone has an opinion about how this plays out next year. Does Fallon piss you off or is he a quaint guilty pleasure? Will Conan’s “me no talk comfortably with women, hee hee” aging sense of humor play to the Activia-slurpin’ Leno crowd? Does Carson Daly continue to starve himself for no apparent reason? Oh, yeah, and Jimmy Kimmel. Let us know in the comments. Does the Internet rule these shows out completely for your insomniac lifestyle? And no, this isn’t patented Slashfilm fodder, but it’s not a major sign of the apocalypse either. Or is it?

My take: I hate Fallon. He’s friggin’ terrible. I’ve met him twice in person, and he’s just like he is on screen. Smug and distant. Craig Ferguson will pwn the time slot. Conan will bomb like Couric in his new gig. Leno finds a new home and him and Dave continue their non-feud feud. Saw The Late Show live in the Rotten Apple on Monday and it was a strange experience (and subpar show). Being told to clap and laugh over and over while you’re shivering (cliche, but true) and half-way listening to Billy Crystal’s pope jokes was like subtle science fiction. But Letterman’s still the man, as is Chris Elliot and his gut.

Discuss: How will Fallon do? How about Conan vs. Letterman? Why not give one of these time slots from the Land of Predictable Monologues to Paul Scheer and Human Giant? Shake it up…

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