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Conan O'Brien's ''Late Night'' debut

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Based on a Sept. 2 sneak preview of his new Late Night, Conan O’Brien still has some kinks to work out before his show’s Sept. 13 debut. Among his problems:

First impressions: Uncomfortably shifting from side to side, O’Brien got the dry run off to a rotten start by feigning mock rage. His first words to the audience? ”Who are you to judge me?” He followed with, ”I’ll do anything, I’m new.” He finally earned applause for jumping around and screaming like a monkey. He then muttered, ”Very pathetic. Bad, bad host.”

You are incorrect, sir: Unfortunately, Conan & company may be bringing back the sidekick — à la Ed McMahon. Unknown comic Andy Richter, a cross between Chris Farley and Andy Rooney, sits alongside O’Brien, but the duo’s banter is positively painful. A typical exchange: ”Andy, what is the best thing about working here?” Conan asks. Awkward silence. ”The snacks,” Andy replies.

Stupid pet tricks: Whenever a joke bombed — which was often — the screen cut to a shot of frolicking kittens in a basket. ”If you hate the joke,” warned Conan, ”you hate the cats.” The gimmick was one of the only things the audience liked.

Who’s with the band? Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen’s former E Street drummer, leads the seven-piece band (three horns, guitar, bass, piano, drums). Weinberg’s main competition, John Lurie (formerly of the Lounge Lizards), was edged out in August. ”I don’t think (Conan) knows anything about music,” Lurie says. ”He said he wanted it to sound like the Flintstones.” The rejected Lurie is picking up the pieces. ”My plan is to move to Africa,” he says, ”but not because I didn’t get the Conan job.”

Mike Wallace, he’s not: During the chat segment, guest Lynn Redgrave, currently starring in Broadway’s Shakespeare for My Father, challenged her host’s interviewing style after he plied her with queries like, ”So, your father had something to do with the play?”

Designer blues: Though still in flux, the set design appears to be an effort to de-Dave NBC’s Studio 6A. Call it a Lucky Charms motif: yellow suns, moons, and stars against blue walls, couch, and guest chairs. ”I thought I looked good in front of blue,” O’Brien explained to the audience, feebly. ”That’s what they told me.” Should he start listening to someone else?

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