TBS has done a great job letting us know that Conan O’Brien is now back on TV-- Monday through Thursday evening from 11pm to midnight. He debuted Monday evening. The TBS program is called “Conan” — so named because “I’d be harder to replace,” said he. Smart move. Conan is a major talent and many TV viewers have missed him. By the way, isn’t it interesting that Leno & Letterman are known by their last names and Conan gets first name status? We guess having an interesting first name helps.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock you may not have been aware that Conan was unceremoniously dumped by NBC in January (but $32.5 Million richer as a result) so that NBC could bring back Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. Foolish or not, NBC’s decision left Conan far wealthier, with a short non-compete, but without a TV show. His summer comedy tour appropriately named, Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television, had kept him busy during the “bridge months”.
For several months we knew the November 8 launch date of his new TBS program-- Conan’s orange blimp helped, and promotion during the baseball playoffs did too. So now that his self deprecating style of humor many love is back, what does it mean?
It means that late night TV programming is now more crowded than ever. First of all, George Lopez, a marginal ratings contributor on TBS with roughly 800,000 nightly viewers, has moved from 11pm to midnight on TBS to make room for Conan at 11pm. The remaining field is very crowded. Conan will compete not only with the traditional late night broadcasts—Tonight Show/Leno and Late Night/Letterman at 11:35pm, each with roughly 3.6 Million nightly viewers, but also with The Daily Show and Colbert Report on Comedy Central, and even Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. And the program with the largest late night viewing audience, averaging 3.8 Million viewers, is ABC’s Nightline.
As with other TV day parts, the reality is that that late night is no longer a day part dominated by a single program/performer as in the Tonight Show/Johnny Carson era, but rather one with a fragmented audience, with many options. This plays well to the success of Conan. He will not be the ratings leader and may not come close to the ratings he achieved on NBC. But those who missed him will find him, love him again, and be loyal. Conan’s new show, still containing many of the previous elements but including new ones too, will be edgier on TBS than on NBC and he will probably attract a strong 18-49 advertiser friendly audience as well.
We are happy Conan is back. A talented performer adds to the quality of the TV medium which translates into strong audiences. We expect his show to be a “success” against more modest objectives than when he was the Tonight Show host, and we expect Conan will be stronger against a younger demo. What’s next in late night? Time will tell….