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Four Reasons Why Conan Will Thrive On TBS

by Joel Keller, posted Apr 13th 2010 2:37PM
Coco is with TBS promoIt goes without saying that when Conan O'Brien announced that he had signed with TBS to do a new late night show, mostly everyone who follows these things was shocked. TBS? Didn't they already have George Lopez at 11PM? What happened to Fox, FX and Comedy Central? Is anyone even going to see Conan on cable?

But it didn't take long to realize that going to TBS was the right move for Conan, especially after some of the details of the deal were revealed. In fact, the longer you look at it, the better the deal looks, for these four reasons.

1. Conan will own the show. This is a big one. TBS had no problem letting Conan own his show and just paying him a licensing fee to air it. Fox was never going to allow him to do that. And control was a big deal to Conan, according to The Daily Beast's Peter Lauria, especially after everything he went through with NBC and 'The Tonight Show.'

The implications of this move are quite large: Like David Letterman, Conan and not the network is now in charge of what and how his employees get paid. Given his generous history with his staff, both during the writers' strike and the aftermath of the NBC disaster, you know that he's going to use that power to support his staff any way he can. Remember when Worldwide Pants was able to negotiate a separate deal with the WGA during the strike so Letterman could have his writers? Conan will also be able to do that.

There won't be much money in DVDs and syndication -- maybe some foreign licensing money will come his way -- but, according to Lauria, Conan is more interested in ownership so he a) has creative control, b) can package his program for online outlets and other alternative media streams whichever way he chooses, and c) has the option to shop the show lock, stock and barrel to other networks when his licensing contract is up.

2. He doesn't need to beg affiliates to carry the show at 11PM. The affiliate issue was going to be a problem with Fox, and you don't need to be Bill Carter or Joe Adalian to know that. Anyone with some knowledge of how TV syndication works knows that stations buy the rights to air shows years in advance, and in multi-year blocks.

Fox was not going to be able to get all of its affiliates to give up on showing 'The Office' or 'Seinfeld' or whatever program they had purchased to air at 11PM, just to roll the dice on Conan. At best, Conan probably wouldn't have cleared 11PM until a few years into the show's run.

3. There's no pressure at TBS. Think about it: George Lopez has been doing his show mostly in obscurity for almost six months now, and TBS was standing behind him. He was so confident that he'd stay around that he called Conan up himself to volunteer to move to midnight and make room for Conan. So if Lopez was feeling secure, surely Conan won't have to be anxious, either.

Remember: this is basic cable. If Conan draws the two or so million viewers that watch 'The Daily Show' every night, TBS will be doing back flips. That's less than the audience that got him fired from NBC. And, besides, on Fox Conan would not only be scrutinized directly against Leno and Letterman, but he'd be under pressure to save Fox in late-night, given their sorry history during the week (Chevy Chase, anyone?).

4. TBS will promote the hell out of the show during the baseball playoffs. Since his show starts in November, TBS is going to take every opportunity to promote it during the Division Series and the ALCS. I just hope they don't make us hate Conan they way they made us hate Frank Caliendo.

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pros: lots of recent publicity. he has played the "victim" and America loves the victim. he was associated with a big-time franchise, the Tonight Show

cons: he's not funny. he's bad with guests. his demographic is aging fast, gen x, not millennials. style like the 1990's, and not in a good way.

April 18 2010 at 12:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eric H

I could see Conan maybe getting a delayed syndication deal with comedy central to air the next day, may not be a lot, but couldn't hurt.

April 14 2010 at 9:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"That's less than the audience that got him fired from NBC."

He wasn't exactly fired....I don't think a contract buyout and fired can go together.
I love articles that have their facts straight.

April 14 2010 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hazeldeluxe's comment
Joel Keller

I have my facts straight, I'm just condensing them to the word "fired," because, when you think about it, that's what happened. NBC wanted to move him to midnight, he refused, so they bought out his contract. Sounds like he was fired to me.

April 14 2010 at 7:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don't forget the Tonight Show guest rule. If don't appear on Leno first you'll have to wait a year if at all.

April 13 2010 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

5. No reason to wait 35 minutes for a miserable local newscast to get over with before each show.

April 13 2010 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F

Conan gets good ratings in the 18-49 demo, which is why he was given the Tonight Show. But he didn't pull in good enough overall numbers for the affiliates. There aren't any affiliates here to worry about, which will be a good thing.

April 13 2010 at 4:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Conan cannot hold a candle to Jon Stewart so he's no problem. I'm glad he found a job, poor put upon thing! As for me, I never watched him anyway; he's so not funny nor appealing

April 13 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to moonflower32's comment

You do know that Stewart, Colbert, and O'Brien are not only from the same comical mold, but very friendly? If you think Stewart is funny, I don't see how you don't find O'Brien funny. Just replace political rhetoric with sex jokes and it's the exact same formula!

I imagine with DVR ratings become more of a trend as well, TBS will find their DVR stock up leaps and bounds with the addition of Conan. I can't imagine a scenario where he isn't nabbing a healthy share of his audience on a nightly basis.

To respond to the Tonight Show ratings under Conan, the problem was that the Tonight Show aims for a demographic Conan's humor does not aim for and that was the problem. If you want safe, moderate, middle America humor, you gravitate toward Leno and the Tonight Show. If you want something that isn't afraid to be awkward, different, and perhaps a little left of center, you go Letterman, O'Brien, and Kimmel.

April 13 2010 at 4:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If George freakin Lopez can have a successful show. Conan sure can.

April 13 2010 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

TBS has to be a bit leery of the low numbers he got on the Tonight Show. But then again, 2 mil for TBS would be a good deal for them. I wish Conan well.

April 13 2010 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

The interesting competition will be between Conan and the Daily Show. Jon really has never had to face serious competition for his limited by fiercely loyal demo. Conan will be competing head to head there. Although with the number of reshowings of the Daily Show, I imagine some of the lost viewers at 11 will just shift to watching it at a different time.

April 13 2010 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Joey Geraci's comment

Yeah assuming you don't just Tivo it, the Daily Show is on again 2 hours later. So just watch Conan, masturbate for an hour, and then the Daily show and Colbert are on.

April 14 2010 at 12:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

Brilliant! I vote for the rapid adoption of your proposed nightly schedule, forthwith!

April 14 2010 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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