Conan O'Brien finds late-night home on TBS: Will he get last laugh?
Conan O'Brien will return to late-night TV in November, on basic cable's TBS. Some analysts see it as a liberating move. Others say he will have to start from scratch to build an audience.
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Mr. Dixon cites several reasons O'Brien can’t compete on a TBS platform: TBS isn't really a network, so O'Brien won't have the audience penetration or reach that comes with a network; TBS's numbers are weak overall, so his 11 p.m. show won't have a good lead-in; TBS has no tradition of a late-night show, so O'Brien will have to build it from the ground up.Skip to next paragraph
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The move will “cheapen Conan as a performer, because by going so down market, he'll have problems landing his next gig when this show fails, and TBS's production values can't possibly match those of the networks," says Dixon. "I also think he'll have real trouble attracting 'A' list celebrities. In the end, I predict this will help TBS over the short term, but hurt Conan, and boost Leno and Letterman's dominance.”
Aspiring comic Raul Rodriguez, though, sees a sure-fire winner in all the comedic musical chairs: George Lopez's "Lopez Tonight," which now will follow O'Brien's show on TBS, at midnight. “George Lopez is going to get a boost from Conan’s lead-in, and I’m hoping to cash in on the focus on Hispanic comics,” says Mr. Rodriguez, who plans to call himself Jeffe Demento. Upon hearing the news about the O'Brien-Lopez pairing, he headed right for LA Connection, a Sherman Oaks comedy club to see if he could audition.
“This is the first time a Hispanic comedian has been linked with a pop icon like Conan O’Brien,” says Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York. “It’s really good for George Lopez.”
In Monday’s press release, O'Brien noted with his usual wry flair: “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.”
While basic cable has raised its profile with hit shows such as AMC’s “Mad Men,” “Damages,” and "Nip/Tuck,” the biggest miscalculation of this new show may be the hour it airs, says Syracuse University's Mr. Thompson.
“This 11 p.m. slot pits Conan against the two comedians most young audiences would take a bullet for,” he says, referring to Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" and Stephen Colbert of "The Colbert Report." Thompson acknowledges that many viewers watch those Comedy Central shows on their DVRs and laptops at other times, but he also maintains that time-shifting is less prevalent than is widely believed.
“Many people still watch shows in their actual time slot, and this puts Conan right up against two of the hippest shows on cable,” he says.