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Conan O'Brien takes reins on 'The Tonight Show'

The first joke of the first night of a brand new era on arguably TV's most important and historic show (and, hey, not a bad joke at all):

"Well," said Conan O'Brien, the fifth host of " The Tonight Show," "I've timed this moment perfectly. I'm on a last place network, I moved to a state that's bankrupt, and tonight's show is sponsored by General Motors."

And so began the reign of the once and future king of "Tonight" who indeed joins a show whose network is long past "flagging" and which will soon deploy the last host of "Tonight" to fill the 10 p.m. hour.

There must be a joke in there, too . . . somewhere.

Over on "Late Show with David Letterman," the host said: "I'm Dave Letterman. I'm still here. I knocked off another competitor."

But the monologue suggested that the new host has acclimated to a new coast (and, indeed, new climate.)

"A lot of people have been asking me, 'Will your show be any different now that you've moved to Los Angeles?' I tell them all, 'No. Mi programa no va a cambiar porque estoy en la ciudad de Los Ángeles.' "

Translation: My program will not change because I am in Los Angeles.

Or this: "We're here at Universal Studios. It's exciting to tape the show on the Universal lot because we're just around the corner from Wisteria Lane where they film ' Desperate Housewives.' In fact, in a lot of recent scenes you can see me playing the 'Creepy Guy in the Bushes.' "

Or this: "I think they've built us a beautiful studio here in Los Angeles. This studio holds 380 people. It's exactly like being at a Clippers game."

And so it begins. If Conan is lucky . . . if the gods of TV smile . . . if NBC doesn't sink any further (not necessarily a given), he's got several thousand editions to go.

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