The Watchman: Less Means More for Conan, And Pure Details Unlikely Drug Dealers

Conan starts its ninth season on TBS Jan. 22, coming back as a 30-minute show, down from its previous hour. Tom Hanks is a guest on the premiere episode.

The late-night show is but “one spoke in the wheel” for Conan O’Brien, according to TBS executive VP of programming Brett Weitz. There is the podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. There are the comedy tours. There are the travel specials.

O’Brien is celebrating his 26th year on television. The half-hour show, stripped of what the host called “the format I inherited,” allows him to focus on his multiplatform game plan. It airs Monday-Thursday.

The glut of late-night shows on TV compels the savvier hosts to branch out, according to Weitz. “You have to cut through it and do something different,” he said. “It’s not just being a late-night host.”

Gone is O’Brien’s desk, and his suit as well. While the show is shorter, O’Brien fans end up with more of their beloved host with the new setup. “It’s more content throughout the day, each day,” Weitz said. “When you have the right personality-driven format, you can build businesses around it.”

O’Brien will come back “evolved,” Weitz said. He’ll hit the stage with some new energy. “He’s refreshed,” he added. “He’s really excited to be doing this again.”

On a darker note, Pure, a drama about a Mennonite community that gets tied up with drug dealing, starts on WGN America Jan. 23. Noah Funk is a pastor aiming to sever his community’s ties to a Mexican cocaine cartel. A bad guy is put in jail, and Funk is forced into his role.

“He’s a good man trying to do the right thing by God,” said show-runner Michael Amo, “in a morally complicated universe.”

The story was inspired by an article Amo read many years ago in the late Canadian mag Saturday Night, about Mennonites involved with a drug cartel. It was also spawned by Amo’s grandparents, who emigrated from Russia and took up with the Mennonites. (For the record, they were not tied up in the drug trade.) Amo’s grandfather hand-wrote a memoir, a photocopy which was passed along to Amo as a youth. “It was interesting to read it from a teenage perspective, then read it again as an adult,” he said.

The show is shot in Nova Scotia. Amo calls its visual style “reserved” more than kinetic.

Ryan Robbins plays Funk and Alex Paxton-Beesley his wife. Amo won’t quite call Funk an anti-hero, but allows that he’s a “complicated man.”

WGN America is on board for six episodes. “A decade of cajoling, wheedling and writing,” Amo said of the project. “This has come a long way.

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.