HomeTelevisionFarewell to the King: Conan O'Brien to Depart TBS for HBO MAX...

Farewell to the King: Conan O’Brien to Depart TBS for HBO MAX in 2021

Conan O'Brien
Photo Credit Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner

It’s officially the end of an era. Conan O’Brien will end his eponymous TBS late night show next year and move to a weekly series on HBO Max. With Conan’s departure, the last king of late night leaves a very different landscape in his wake.

The late night landscape of yore was must-watch TV. Everyone stayed up to watch Johnny or Dave or Jay and they had strong opinions on who was the best at their job. Nowadays, you catch last night’s Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert highlights online and skip the extraneous parts. Late night talk shows still exist because they are cheap to produce. More romantically, they’re a tiny piece of our cultural history residing on traditional television after the evening news. However, they are not the cultural powerhouses they once were, which is why Letterman and Conan felt the need to move on to their next projects.

Like David Letterman, Conan isn’t retiring. But unlike Letterman, Conan isn’t even attempting to retire. In fact, while everyone was working and sleeping, Conan was building the Team Coco podcasting empire’s diverse selection such as Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, Frontier Tween, Three Questions with Andy Richter and numerous other shows.

While it’s sad to see Conan leave traditional television it’s not surprising. Letterman has seen success on Netflix. Letterman has been open about finding long-form interviews more fulfilling than he ever found screwing around with Richard Simmons or Paris Hilton. Since Conan’s already had success with the audio equivalent of Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction… and enjoyed the working on Serious Jibber Jabber the inertia in the comfort of a standard nightly time slot would be the only thing keeping him on TBS at 11 p.m. Now, Conan won’t be completely leaving television as he will be staying on TBS with his Conan Without Borders series — a show he prefers because it lacks studio confines and feels more natural.

Let’s not forget, Conan survived The Tonight Show fiasco because he nimbly switched gears from late night TV to touring the county to back on TV: this time on cable. Regardless of where Conan goes, his loyal fans will follow him. However, will he be able to interest them in a variety show? The variety show is a format that has been dead for 40 years and unsuccessfully revived multiple times like Rosie Live! and Maya and Marty. Ironically, variety shows don’t work and traditional talk shows struggle because the viewing audience is fractured into so many pieces that everyone can watch their niche and ignore all other content.

Even if the HBO MAX Conan variety show fails, Conan will be fine. He’s already experimented with his show by slashing it from an hour to a half hour. If Conan’s moving on, we know it’s because he’s ready. I’m not sure we’re ready to say goodbye to another slice of normalcy. Conan ending his show is nowhere near the worst thing to happen in 2020, but it certainly fits the theme.

Allison Lips
Allison Lips
Anglophile, Rockabilly, Pompadour lover, TV and Music Critic

Most Recent

Stay Connected