Conan Move a TBS Coup

Conan O’Brien will become
the face of TBS’s “very
funny” brand as the basic network
prepares to launch a new
late-night series with the former
Tonight Show host this fall.

In a major acquisition coup,
TBS stunned the television industry
last week by securing O’Brien,
most recently rumored to be taking
his brand of night-time humor
to Fox three months after being
ousted by NBC. Instead, starting
in November, O’Brien will host a
Monday-to-Thursday show at 11
p.m. on TBS.

The time slot’s current occupant
Lopez Tonight, hosted
by comedian George Lopez
will slide back to midnight. Deal
terms were not disclosed, but
O’Brien will own the show and
and have the option of developing
other projects for TBS, according
to network executives.

For TBS, which has struggled
lately on the ratings front, O’Brien
gives the network a bona fide media
superstar with whom to align
its brand and potentially lift its
ratings fortunes.

“I think this is a seminal moment
for the TBS brand and
Conan O’Brien will be the face of
that brand,” Steve Koonin, president
of Turner Entertainment
Networks, told Multichannel
. “We’re in the business of
talent, and Conan O’Brien is one
of the most talented comedians
of the history of the medium and
certainly on television today. He’s
the voice of a generation.”

TV historian Tim Brooks said
O’Brien will provide TBS with a
major awareness and ratings lift
that it hopes will flow through to
the rest of its schedule. The network
— which relies mostly on off -
network sitcoms such as Seinfeld
and Everybody Loves Raymond,
plus original series such as Tyler
Perry’s House Of Payne
— suffered
a 7% decline in total primetime
viewers to 1.7 million during the
first quarter of this year.

“Unlike [sister network] TNT,
TBS has not had a breakout hit
yet, so they’re looking for something
to raise their stock,” Brooks
said. “And if they’re smart about
it, [O’Brien] will bring in new
viewers which they can advertise
to and repurpose to other places
on their network.

“TBS’s challenge going forward
is to find new programming to
drive those new viewers toward,”
Brooks said.

O’Brien also has formidable
competition on the cable side that’s
also targeting advertiser-coveted
18-to-49-year-old viewers.

Comedy Central’s The Daily
Show With Jon Stewart
is the
king of cable late-night original
programming in the demo, averaging
1.4 million viewers and
866,600 viewers aged 18 to 49.
E!’s Chelsea Lately and BET’s The
Mo’Nique Show
also draw significant audiences in both categories.
Cartoon Network’s Adult
Swim late-night block will also
compete with TBS for younger
eyeballs in the time period with
acquired sitcom Family Guy.

Koonin said talks with
O’Brien began in earnest April
7, after the possibility of bringing
the former star of NBC’s
Tonight Show and Late Night
franchises aboard was discussed
with Lopez. Lopez then
called O’Brien to ask that he
consider joining the network’s
late-night lineup. (O’Brien became
a free agent earlier this
year in part because of NBC’s
decision to push The Tonight
back to midnight to make
room for a half-hour show hosted
by O’Brien’s predecessor, Jay
Leno. In response, O’Brien left
the network, paving the way for
Leno’s return to Tonight.)

In adding O’Brien, TBS gets an
established personality to helm
its post-primetime programming
block, a daypart in which
increasingly younger viewers are
seeking out TV options, Koonin

O’Brien will get a half-hour
head start on late-night broadcast-
network staples The Tonight
Show With Jay Leno
on NBC and
Late Show With David Letterman
on CBS, shows that tend to draw
older viewers.

“The reason we did it and we
feel jazzed about doing it is because
it positions us to have two
guys in their 40s whose audiences
are in their 20s and 30s,”
Koonin said. “Do I expect him to
have the highest total viewer delivery
in late night? Probably not.
Do I expect him to be the most
targeted with the audience? Unequivocally.”

Loretha Jones, president of original
programming for BET, isn’t
concerned about O’Brien cutting
into Mo’Nique’s audience.

“I’m thrilled for Conan that he
has found a new home at TBS, but
we’re not worried,” Jones said.
“We were thrilled when George
Lopez had that time slot, and it
had no impact on us, and we don’t
expect [O’Brien] to have any impact
on our viewers who tune in
and love Mo’nique.”

As for Lopez Tonight, Koonin
said O’Brien’s presence at 11 p.m.
will only help its ratings, particularly
among young adults. Lopez
which launched in November,
averages 1 million viewers
and draws 623,000 adults
18-49, with a median viewing
age of 34.

“I think that his demographic
numbers will only get younger at
midnight,” Koonin said. “There
will be more of the right audience

The top original cable shows from 11 p.m. to
midnight in total viewers:*

Most viewed cable shows among 18-to-49
year-olds from 11 p.m. to midnight:*

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.