I've been an on-again, off-again fan of late-night TV since I was 10 or so. I remember fondly when David Letterman was funny.
Anyway, when Johnny Carson announced his retirement, apparently a fairly ugly competition arose between Letterman and Jay Leno. Leno won, Dave split for CBS, and into Letterman's slot NBC hired a weird-looking comedy writer with no interview experience. At first, the funniest things about Conan were his name and his hair.
Anyway, that's been a long time, and somehow O'Brien has managed to cobble together a reasonable facsimile of late-night humor (I wanted to say "jerry-rig," but that isn't ethnically-appropriate). His best bits, from the beginning, have been just like Letterman's best bits from his time at NBC: bizarre, or stupid, or juvenile - and preferably all three.
So we watched the beginning of O'Brien's first "Tonight Show." And we soon started to believe that there was something sinister going on.
Exhibit A: Rumors circulate that O'Brien forced Leno out, by threatening to leave for another gig. I don't really care whether that's true, but if it is true, it's fairly sinister. It has shades of the old Letterman/Leno fiasco. Only this time it somehow looked more like The Larry Sanders Show. Viz.: Andy Richter.
Exhibit B: The lengthy, absurd, forced, and ultimately not funny opening shtick, with Conan running across the country to get to LA for the first show because he forgot to move and couldn't catch a cab. This was the first indication what the show's bass note would be: cruelty. Pain and cruelty. As elements of humor, these aren't at all bad. Some of the best humor is painful and cruel. Viz.: Andy Richter.
Exhibit C: His hair, which was made weirder than normal - presumably to frighten young children and the elderly. Plus, it's red - the color of the hair of evil since time immemorial.
Exhibit D: The show is being filmed on the Universal Studios lot. For a first-night stunt (first of many, no doubt), O'Brien took over the play-by-play duties from a tour guide. He proceeded to have the tram buses run in a circle, while the tourists chanted "Circle! Circle! Circle!" in an offer of praise and an indication of their submission to Conan's authority. He then had the buses drive off the lot, through city streets, to a 99¢ store, where he bought every tourist their own personal piece of crap. Viz.: Andy Richter.
Exhibit E: Will Ferrell.