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O'Brien takes over 'The Tonight Show'

  • Story Highlights
  • O'Brien becomes fifth host of NBC's venerable late night television franchise
  • Jay Leno, who followed longtime host Johnny Carson, ended his 17-year reign Friday
  • "The Tonight Show" debuted in 1954 with Steve Allen as host
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HOLLYWOOD, California (CNN) -- Conan O'Brien kicked off his new gig on "The Tonight Show" with a bit showing him in a mad cross-country run from New York to Los Angeles, arriving at his locked studio only to realize he'd left his keys behind.

"The Tonight Show" harkens back a generation in style to Johnny Carson's version, with Conan O'Brien at the helm.

"The Tonight Show" harkens back a generation in style to Johnny Carson's version, with Conan O'Brien at the helm.

So started the latest round of silliness for the fifth host of NBC's venerable late night television franchise.

"I've timed this moment perfectly," O'Brien deadpanned in his opening monologue. "I'm on a last-place network, I moved to a state that's bankrupt, and tonight's show is sponsored by General Motors."

This version of "The Tonight Show" harkens back a generation in style and appearance to Johnny Carson's version. Old buddy Andy Richter is back as sidekick announcer after leaving in the early years of "Late Night," the show O'Brien hosted for 16 years in New York, and Max Weinberg returns as band leader. Video Watch iReporters give their review of Conan's debut »

Opening night was filled with many gags and high-profile guests, including Pearl Jam and Will Ferrell, who was carried in by Egyptian throne bearers.

Jay Leno ended his 17-year reign as host Friday, but will be back in the fall with a new prime-time show. The new show is expected to have some of the same elements as "The Tonight Show," but with some new features. iReport.com: How did Conan do?

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"The Tonight Show" debuted in 1954 with Steve Allen as host, followed by Jack Paar.

But it wasn't until Johnny Carson took the reins in 1962 that the show became a fixture and the standard bearer in late night talk shows. Carson retired in 1992 and was replaced by Leno.

All About Will FerrellJohnny CarsonConan O'Brien

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