Conan O'Brien's well-documented struggles to find his way as the host of the Tonight Show may be cause for alarm, but it's hardly time to punch the panic button, writes Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales. O'Brien "is to be congratulated for the way the show has been going," writes one of the most vociferous critics of Conan's early efforts in his previous gig, "but not, of course and alas, for the way it's been doing in the ratings."
His set's design isn't helping the 11:35 newbie, nor is the earlier time slot. "The show is less bizarre-o, the comedy less eclectic and surreal," Shales observes. "Some of this is inevitable; there are many more viewers to please an hour earlier." Perhaps most problematic, the "great ad-libber seems to be clinging to scripts," rehearsing the spontaneity out of jokes and even interviews. Relax and enjoy it, Shales counsels: "The host gets credit for funny things that his guests do; it's just the way of the talk-show world."