Less ‘Conan’ on TBS, but More Conan for Fans

Conan is back on TBS Jan. 22, the show now a half-hour, compared to the hour length it had since it debuted on the Turner network in 2010. The pared-down length allows host Conan O’Brien to spent more time on his side pursuits, including a comedy tour, a new podcast and his Conan Without Borders travel specials.

Brett Weitz, TBS executive VP of programming, refers to the “evolution of late night,” where an increasing number of hosts--Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Busy Phillips, many others--are fighting for eyeballs and attention, and do so by offering something unique.

The podcast, “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” launched in April. O’Brien has sat down with Adam Sandler, Marc Maron and Wanda Sykes, among others.

While viewers will see the half-hour show as less Conan each week, Weitz said the extra-curriculars mean more Conan for his fans. Turner is a partner on the various O’Brien ventures.

“When you have the right personality-driven format, you can build businesses around it,” said Weitz.

Last year, O’Brien said this about the revamped program: “I’ll do much more of what I’m passionate about, and do less of, this is the format I inherited, I need to do more of that because that’s what I inherited in 1993.”

Gone is his desk and O’Brien will dress more casually. The Basic Cable Band is gone. Andy Richter remains. The show will typically feature one celeb interview per episode. Tom Hanks is on Tuesday.

Conan airs Monday-Thursday.

There’s no nightly lead-out, with The Big Bang Theory and American Dad following the show some nights. “Every night could be different,” said Weitz.

O’Brien began hosting after hours when Late Night With Conan O’Brien debuted on NBC in the fall of 1993, meaning O’Brien has been at it for over 25 years. He spoke about the “repetition” of the gig in the NY Times last week. “I was the new guy for so long, and then that card flips overnight--you go from the inexperienced, nervous punk to the old dean emeritus,” said O’Brien, who added that his goal is to “have a maximum amount of fun.”

Ratings have been free-falling for Conan, according to the NY Times. The show averaged about a million viewers per episode in the fall of 2011, it said. In fall 2018, that was around 300,000. Kevin Reilly, chief creative officer at Turner Entertainment, told the Times there was no corporate mandate in terms of cutting Conan to a half-hour.

We shall see what the trimmed format means for ratings. “He’s been doing the traditional show for so many years,” said Bill Carroll, media consultant. “This gives him the opportunity to do something new. We’ll see how the audience embraces his way of going about it.”

The show went on hiatus more than three months ago. It comes back with more of O’Brien’s personality, said Weitz, and less of the late-night conventions viewers are used to. O’Brien hits the stage with newfound energy, promised Weitz. “He’s really excited to be doing this again,” he said. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.