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October 26, 2014

Don't Laugh at Conan's Move to TBS... It's the Future

by Rich Keller, posted Apr 16th 2010 11:50AM
CoCo is with TBSA few days ago, Joel gave four reasons why Conan O'Brien made the right move to TBS. He mentioned, among other things, the control Conan will have over the new program and not having to fight for affiliates to air the program instead of 'Seinfeld' or 'The Simpsons.'

A fifth reason can also be added. A broader reason encompassing not just Conan's show, but the current talk shows that populate the cable horizon. You see, cable is the future of late night talk shows. I see you rolling your eyes and chuckling! However, I would hold off in calling me various versions of 'idiot' until you hear me out.
Joel's points about Conan's stability and freedom affect all of the current gab fests. Shows like 'Chelsea Lately' and 'The Daily Show' are freer not only with their topics, but their language (liberally bleeped) and their variety of guests. This freedom has been the driving force over the last few years for a number of high-quality scripted programs. With Conan jumping into the fray, this could spur other would-be talkers to join him.

It's this flexibility and freedom that's killing talk shows on the Big Four networks. Perfect example: the disaster -- but delicious drama for the rest of us -- that was NBC's talk show debacle. 'The Jay Leno Show' was not as different as everyone thought it would be, and Conan's 'Tonight Show' was a bit too brash for the network executives to like. The result: stay safe, move Jay back to 11:30, and kick Conan off. They just couldn't afford the risk of keeping both of these shows on long enough to see what would happen.

That's the major difference between the big networks and those on cable -- risk taking. Cable networks have the advantage here. Not only do networks like TBS cater to a smaller audiences, their financial models -- gathering advertising revenue as well as charging license fees to cable companies -- allow them to take some additional risks and time with the shows they air. Since the broadcast networks receive their revenues only from advertisers, who buy their time depending on viewership, they can't afford to take time to see how a show plays out. So, they go back to tried-and-true and pray that it still works.

Thing is, folks are getting tired of tried-and-true. This is why they tune into talk shows like 'The Daily Show' or 'The Colbert Report.' They want some edge, some harshness. They want to see a funny and good-looking blond talk about the day's events with a panel of comedians. They don't want ten-minute monologues featuring 60-year-old men telling 20-year-old jokes while the applause sign goes off every 15 seconds. They want their laughs mixed with entertainment and, sometimes, a few thoughts to ponder.

That's why these other talk shows are doing well in the ratings (for cable, that is). Take 'Lopez Tonight,' which will be moving to midnight once Conan moves in. According to TBS, the show is averaging a respectable 1.2 million viewers a night. When 'The Mo'Nique Show' premiered on BET last October, it averaged 1.5 million viewers. 'The Daily Show,' 'The Colbert Report,' and 'Chelsea Lately' all average around the one million viewer mark.* Considering the two network Jimmies (Fallon and Kimmel) average around 1.5 million viewers, these are great numbers for the cable talkers.

Combining these factors together, cable is ripe for a new generation of late night talk shows. It may not happen in the next year. However, as David Letterman makes his decision to stay or go, Jay Leno is carried off the stage after dying in the middle of monologue, and Craig Ferguson and Fallon decide if they want to move up an hour, more and more viewers and performers will look to these smaller networks to satisfy their talk show cravings.

*=ratings are for viewers 18-49

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8 Comments

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Lenisey

Very nice according to me.........
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April 17 2010 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PB

Once sites like Hulu start to introduce more commericals and eventually charging fees to login you'll see how fast people go back to TV.

April 16 2010 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to PB's comment
Deezul

Yep. And remember who in 1999-2000, "The Internet" was going to have all the coolest shows and TV would be dead by now?

April 17 2010 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
flatrich

While I agree that cable networks may rise to the challenge in the short run, most of the major cable stations are now owned by the same corporations who own the four "big" networks. USA and SyFy, for example, are owned by NBC. TBS by Time-Warner. FX by Fox. As the cable audience grows, so will the puritanical restraints now imposed by the big guys. TV, like radio before it, is still mostly in the business of selling soap. Art, when it exists, is only a byproduct.

April 16 2010 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to flatrich's comment
RobynM

In all fairness, the FCC's responsible for most of the "puritanical restraints now imposed by the big guys", not the Networks. Cable and satellite simply aren't subject to the same level of restrictions and oversight that the old school Nets are.

April 16 2010 at 8:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Deezul

Not yet, but every once in a while some group raises a stink, asking the FCC to regulate. Will it happen? Probably not. But I'd never say never.

April 17 2010 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy

The cable model is great now, but the internet has been making TV a la carte. Once people stop paying for cable and can watch the shows they want online, like they do now with Hulu, this will collapse.

April 16 2010 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jimmy's comment
Justin

This is conditional on the idea that people over a certain age group could easily access internet-based shows and they won't. The large majority of the U.S. population is above the age of 40 and while the younger set has largely embraced new technologies, the older set has not and will not. It'll be at least another generation before the collapse of the current cable system and even then, I'm sure cable--having access to delivering high speed internet and eventually satellite internet--will still be in control of delivering a la carte programming to the masses. The cable industry giants aren't stupid and prehistoric a la the music and film industries.

April 16 2010 at 2:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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