I have not watched every episode of Conan, but I have seen most of the episodes, at least the pre-interview stuff. I'm firmly in the Team Coco camp and felt he should have remained host of The Tonight Show. Losing that gig has definitely changed Conan, the person, making Conan, the show, a slightly different beast than its predecessors. It was easy for everyone to dump on Conan when it first debuted in November and make snap judgments. Now that the show has found some of its footing, I'd like to offer a more thorough critique of the show.
Overall, the issue is that Conan has lost some of his self-confidence. Do a search on YouTube for a clip from the later years of Late Night and compare that Conan to the Conan of the current show. There's quite a difference in the way he carries himself now as compared to then. To fix this main issue, I offer the following suggestions:
1. Andy needs to go.
This pains me to say it, but I think this is the number one problem with the current show. Andy helped Conan through his initial years on NBC and it was a delight to have him back on The Tonight Show. But I think Conan matured as a performer quite a bit after Andy left Late Night. Conan probably thinks he needs Andy for now, but I think he's a crutch that isn't adding much to the show. And I don't really get the impression that Andy wants to be there all that much anyway. Give the announcer gig to warm-up comedian Jimmy Pardo and send Andy on his way to pursue his acting interests again.
2. The monologue needs to be retooled.
I am a fan of Conan's style of monologue jokes. There is a certain formula to it. Usually there are two sentences, the first one a brief summary of a recent news event, the second finishes the story in a farcical way but delivered very straight. (For example: After 60 years of service, the Dali Lama is stepping down as the political leader of Tibet. Apparently he heard there was an opening at Two and Half Men.) However, the real humor isn't in the joke itself, but comes from the ad lib comments and pantomime from Conan afterward.
The problem is that these initial jokes seem to be bombing more and more which doesn't help Conan's self-confidence. Either Conan needs some better monologue writers or he needs to retool the monologue all together. Some of Conan's best bits are his off-the-cuff bits. During the writer's strike, Conan entertained for weeks with no monologue jokes. They're not needed. Time for Conan to break the mold on this and do something better.
3. Bye-bye beard.
The beard represents a time of transition from losing The Tonight Show to defiantly moving on to the tour and eventually cable. Shaving the beard will signify that his time of "mourning" is over and he's ready to get back to being the Conan we all know and love. Conan has mentioned he doesn't plan on keeping the beard long-term, so this is just a matter of time, but I think it is time for it to go now. I wish he had shaved it on the first anniversary of his last Tonight Show episode.
4. Conan needs to be on board more.
Conan doesn't seem to buy into some of the gags anymore. There's a hint of embarrassment when certain silliness happens. The same silliness would happen on his previous shows and he would totally be along for the ride or laugh it off. He is now shaking his head in disbelief at the lunacy. If he doesn't buy it, the audience isn't going to either.
5. More nods to the past.
Letterman's transition from CBS to NBC was different than Conan's transition from NBC to TBS. However, there are several similarities. Conan clearly wants to make the new show something new, but it's hard to throw away 18 years of history. There have been some effective nods to the NBC years on the new show. Letterman worked out a different deal than Conan and was able to take the Top Ten Lists and Stupid Pet Tricks with him. Conan can't do some of the classics, but he seems to be playing it too safe and not poking at NBC enough. Wednesday night's episode had one such nod. More of these would be welcome. (Although, he still needs to be careful not to come across too bitter. It works for Letterman, but wouldn't work for Conan.)
There are some other things I would change, but I won't put them on my list of "essential" changes.
I'm not a huge fan of the set as a whole. With some minor modifications, I could like it better. My big problem is the open scene behind the desk. Not since Leno's first set on his first Tonight Show has there been an open scene like that on a talk show that I can recall. Even on Conan's Tonight Show set, there were glass columns that helped add some structure behind the desk area and framed the shots better. I also don't like that Conan stands in front of his desk during the monologue. I'd rather he stand in front of the curtain or just go sit at the desk, but that's just a preference thing.
The lack of Max Weinberg is missed and can't be helped, but without his presence, the band as a whole is lacking the character it once had. Jimmy Vivino leads the band, yet there is very little interaction with him.
I still enjoy the show and think it will continue to get better and evolve. These are things that could be done soon that I believe would expedite its improvement.