Conan O'Brien headed to TBS
[This blog post has been updated]
Conan O'Brien is returning to late night TV - on basic cable network TBS, by-passing all those pesky things like network-affiliated TV stations and show ownership that were making his negotiations with the Fox broadcast network a perfect hell.
His one-hour, not-yet-named show will start at 11 p.m., giving him a half-hour jump on his NBC nemesis Jay Leno, as well as CBS late night host David Letterman. His most direct competition will be Jon Stewart whose half-hour "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central also starts at 11 each night, followed by Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report" which runs from 11:30-midnight.
Like Stewart's show, Conan's will run Monday through Thursday. Like Dave Letterman's late night show at CBS, Conan will own his TBS program.
"In three months I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I'm headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly," Conan said Monday in a canned statement that accompanied TBS's announcement.
TBS's surprise announcement coincides with the kickoff of Conan's "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" which is stopping in Washington D.C. on June 8. The show name is a reference to his multi-million dollar exit package from NBC, which prevents him from appearing on TV until the fall. Not surprisingly, his TBS show won't debut until November.
George Lopez's TBS late night show, "Lopez Tonight" which debuted nearly seven months ago, is being bumped to a midnight timeslot to make way for Conan. That's rich, since Conan's refusal to move his late night self to midnight-ish after seven months on "The Tonight Show" on NBC is what triggered his current state of late night unemployment and Leno's return to "The Tonight Show."
On Monday, however, both sides of the new deal were deeply invested in explaining to the Reporters Who Cover Television that this situation, in which Conan is bumping Lopez by an hour, is totally different than when NBC tried to bump Conan by 30 minutes. You've probably seen all the press reports about how Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin first went to Lopez to get his blessing before even approaching Conan's camp, and how Conan insisted on getting Lopez's blessing before he would allow his reps to even take a meeting with Turner suits.
"I welcome @conanObrien to his new home at TBS," Lopez tweeted graciously shortly after TBS put out Monday's announcement. No dummy, Lopez almost immediately began working to gin up a Team Lo-Co campaign on Twitter.
In the fourth quarter of 2009 - his last full quarter at NBC - Conan averaged 2.6 million viewers and 1 percent of the country's 18-49 year-olds, which is the age bracket networks target because it's the age bracket advertisers pay a premium to reach.
Conan was getting beat by Letterman (even worse, he only tied the old-timer in the 18-49 demo). It was that ratings performance, and Leno's lousy numbers in primetime, that caused NBC hatch a plan to move Conan to 12:05 a.m., in order to return Jay Leno to 11:35 p.m. each weeknight.
On TBS, however, Conan's fourth-quarter numbers would make him a rock star. George Lopez has only been clocking 795,000 viewers in the timeslot since his show debuted in November.
Isn't it wonderful what moving from the big pond to the small one does for one's stature?
In the fourth quarter, while Conan was pulling in those not-ready-for-broadcast numbers, Jon Stewart was averaging 1.742 million viewers, and Colbert was averaging 1.202 million. Among 18-49 year-olds, "Daily Show" was clocking a 0.8 rating and Colbert a 0.6.
Given Conan's change of venue - from a broadcast network with a glorious history of late night leadership, to a basic-cable network just getting into the late night talk arena in earnest, it's unlikely Conan will take his entire audience with him to TBS.
In other words: fasten your seat belts - it's going to be a close fight.
TBS's announcement is sure to come up when Fox network suits chat with their affiliated station execs at the National Association of Broadcasters' confab, going on this week in Las Vegas.
Fox network suits badly wanted to get Conan on board, but Fox TV stations were said to be less than wild about the campaign to snag Coco because they would have to make good on their contracts with syndicators on the programs they are currently airing in the 11 p.m. hour. Talks with those Fox stations currently contracted to run NBC Universal's "The Office" and "30 Rock" reruns in that hour were expected to be particularly interesting.
Plus, with the network taking over the timeslot for a Conan show, the individual stations were going to have to turn over most of the ad time in that hour to the network. You can see why they were not rushing to become members of Team Coco.
Also listed in the Unhappy column were execs at Fox parent Newscorp's TV syndication division which stood to lose a heap of business when the hour was no longer a haven for its reruns.
Another sticking point in Conan's talks with Fox was the issue of who would own the show. Conan wanted to own it - in much the same way Letterman's Worldwide Pants produces, and owns, both Dave's show and Craig Ferguson's. Fox brass was said to be favoring the NBC model, in which "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night" are owned by the network.
"Conan has been the comedic voice for a generation. TBS already has a huge audience of young comedy lovers, and Conan's show will give these fans even more reasons to watch our network," said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said in a canned statement that accompanied TBS's announcement
"For decades, late-night TV has been dominated by broadcast television," Canned Koonin continued. "Now, with a young audience and a growing late-night lineup, TBS is set to be the choice of comedy fans for years to come."
"O'Brien is well-known from his many years in comedy," TBS said in its announcement. "He grew up in a large, Irish Catholic family in a suburb of Boston." Of his time hosting late night TV shows for NBC, TBS said diplomatically: In 1993, "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" launched. The show ran for 16 years, ending when O'Brien briefly took over "The Tonight Show."
TBS, owned by Time Warner, is home to such primetime comedy series as "My Boys," Tyler Perry's "House of Payne," and "Meet the Browns."
"The good news: I will be doing a show on TBS starting in November! The bad news: I'll be playing Rudy on the all new 'Cosby Show'," Conan tweeted shortly after TBS made Monday's announcement.
TBS lost no time getting its Conan campaign underway, posting a very brief "Coco is with TBS" promo on its Web site early Monday afternoon:
Lisa de Moraes
April 12, 2010; 3:22 PM ET
Categories: TV News
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