THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN. 11:35 weeknights, Channel 10.

STOP ME if you've heard this already, but Conan O'Brien finally took over "The Tonight Show" last week, 1,707 or so days after NBC had announced the succession plan that would put him there in place of Jay Leno, who was then - and until last week continued to be - the most-watched host in late night.

I'm not sure who's in charge of the 4 1/2-year plans at NBC, but he or she is no doubt very pleased this week.

Conan made it through an entire week without destroying Late Night Television As We Know It.

Yes, there were reports that fans of Jay weren't all warming up to the new guy, who's less about the rat-a-tat of jokes than about the taped pieces that sometimes go on longer than they probably need to.

And, yes, some people were suggesting fans and foes were on two sides of a yawning generation gap.

But Conan, who survived trial by TV critic after being plucked from relative obscurity to replace David Letterman as host of NBC's "Late Night" way back in 1993, is right in believing that "The Tonight Show" is whatever its host makes of it.

At 46, he comes from a generation that grew up on canned laughter and learned to mistrust it. Sometimes it feels as if he's daring you to laugh, other times as if he's daring you not to. If his sensibility owes more to sketch comedy than to stand-up, it's not as if any of this is really new: "Saturday Night Live," after all, is older than many of the viewers it targets.

Conan was a comedy writer long before he was a performer and though like all comedians, he no doubt craves approval, he is more adept at hiding it than Jay.

Some people are going to like that about him, some aren't.

Some of us (and I'm one of them) are probably always going to prefer Letterman.

Or ABC's Jimmy Kimmel.

Or Comedy Central's one-two punch of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Or even a good night's sleep.

Given that Jay will be back on NBC five nights a week at 10 starting Sept. 14, and that Conan, unlike some of his "Tonight Show" predecessors, hardly has even the late-night landscape to himself, it's difficult to get too worked up any more about who's hosting "The Tonight Show."

As Kent Jones, the pop-culture commentator on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" put it last week, "Back in 1954, there were no white men in suits telling jokes after 10 p.m. People said America would never accept such a thing. It just wasn't done.

"Steve Allen set out to prove them wrong. As first host of 'The Tonight Show,' Steve Allen, a white man in a suit, charmed his way into millions of bedrooms every night and it was OK."

Allen was followed by Jack Paar, Jones continued, and then by Johnny Carson, and then by Leno.

"And now, 17 years later, the torch has been passed to Conan O'Brien. As a nation, we progressed to a point where people barely comment on it anymore. He's no longer Conan O'Brien, a white man in a suit. He's just Conan. And it's OK."

Based on the first week, it does seem OK.

Oh, as I said, the taped pieces sometimes go on a bit, as if the host were suggesting you get up and maybe let the dog out.

But when you leave a guy that much time to think about putting his stamp on "The Tonight Show," he's bound to end up overprepping a bit.

The new Universal City studio is as elegant as promised, but the blue art-deco backdrop where the show often begins is more distracting than anyone must have realized, even before its resemblance to an early version of Super Mario Bros. was noted on a blog called Serious Lunch, winning it a shout-out from Conan on Friday's show.

And while most of the guests have been every bit as good as you'd expect for first-week bookings - it's worth having Tom Hanks make even a bad movie if it means he'll liven up the talk-show circuit promoting it - the apparent insistence that most participate in some sort of rehearsed shtick was already getting old by the time Will Ferrell left the stage Monday.

If you loved Conan before, it's unlikely that anything he'll do on "The Tonight Show" will change your mind. If you liked him, but couldn't stay up for "Late Night" very often, well, you're in luck.

And if the very tall redhead is never going to be your company of choice for the wee hours, just hold on to your remote.

There'll be another white guy in a suit along in a click or two. *

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