bill bodkin gives his reaction to the news that conan o’brien has signed with tbs
When America woke up this morning they were greeted with the out-of-left-field news that Conan O’Brien had signed a deal to return to television…with TBS.
Much like the sports world scratched its collective head when Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins, the entertainment world seemed at a bit of a loss for words at Conan’s decision. There were so many more seemingly obvious choices for Conan — ABC and FOX definitely seemed like fertile and open ground for Coco to ply his talented trade.
TBS must be doing backflips and receiving well-deserved pats on the back. With the signing of Conan, they now have the crown jewel, the center piece, the workhorse for their “very funny concept.” For years the “super station” has re-branded itself as a comedy-driven channel and they’ve done so quite successfully by appealing to popular comedy niches. Off-air sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens appeals to the “your parents love it” niche. With Family Guy and The Office they’ve grabbed the mainstream 20 something niche. With Sex & The City, they’ve won over a strong female contingent. With Meet the Browns and House of Payne, they’ve tapped into the very fertile fanbase of Tyler Perry. With Lopez Tonight, they have tapped into Lopez’s humongous Latino audience as well as his strong fanbase from his ABC sitcom and stand-up work.
Now with the addition of Conan, they’ve grabbed the media savvy hipsters, the college kids and their predecessors who were Coco fans from day one.
And their timing couldn’t be better. O’Brien’s fanbase is at a rabid all-time high. He’s amassed a standing army of supporters through the grass roots “I’m with Coco” movement. His “tweets” have become the stuff of legend, with people literally joining Twitter just to read them. His nationwide comedy tour will undoubtedly sell-out.
TBS isn’t the only ones making out on this deal. First and foremost, Conan will be paid handsomely (he’s going to own the show, which guarantees more money). Second, he’s going to a station that averages 1.7 million viewers (seventh overall on cable), largely by just showing syndicated shows (with the exception of Jim Gaffigan’s My Boys). This is one heck of a step-up from the station’s days of airing pro-wrestling and The Andy Griffith Show in between Braves games.
My point? He’s can only go up from here. Lopez Tonight, (the station’s first foray into late night), is average roughly 1 million viewers; Conan, who has decades of experience and an exponentially bigger fan base can undoubtedly draw more.
And you know TBS is going to let Conan loose on the television world. There’s not going to be restraints. When he took the gloves off while on NBC, Conan’s ratings went through the roof; his writing was better than it had been in years. By letting Conan be Conan, TBS will be getting top quality.
However, this isn’t going to be a guaranteed slam dunk in ratings, in fact it’s going to be a bit of a dogfight. First, the number of people who have TBS as compared to NBC is much less — meaning he’ll lose some of his basic cable audience, many of which could be in major urban centers like New York, a hot spot for Coco supporters. Second, he’ll be competing head-on with the one-two punch of Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report, both of whom share a fanbase with Conan. This is something he’s done in the past, but it’s still an obstacle he must overcome.
With all that said, I believe will work out just fine for all parties involved. Do I think that Coco could return to NBC once Leno finally retires? Sure. But what this signing shows me is that cable television, now more than ever, is becoming more relevant, more innovative and more creative in terms of original programming than the standard bearers at the big four networks are.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens when Conan O’Brien arrives to cable in November. We know we’ll be anxiously waiting.