Steve Koonin, the president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said he’s received more than 6,000 notes from Conan O’Brien fans thanking him for hiring the former “Tonight” host for a TBS talk show that starts in November.
Koonin is seizing upon the move, a genuine surprise at the time, to remake a network that is often overlooked by cultural taste-makers.
“It wasn’t hiring an available talent,” Koonin said. “It was building an idea.”
The idea is to use O’Brien and George Lopez to build a late-night franchise that has youthful appeal, taking advantage of the Jay Leno and David Letterman audiences – and the hosts themselves – being relatively old by TV standards. He’ll use the folk hero status his “Team Coco” fans gave O’Brien during his battle with NBC to make the comic the face of TBS.
Already in the works is a plan to rerun the four hours of O’Brien’s show each week late on Friday nights, inviting fans to connect to the show and each other through Twitter and other social media.
TBS is available in almost as many homes these days as the broadcast networks but lacks a real profile, perhaps because its base is in Atlanta and its schedule has long been dominated by reruns. Fewer people watch Comedy Central, and fewer people can get it in their homes, but its stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert get more attention than TBS’ show biz dynamo Tyler Perry.
O’Brien can begin changing that.
“They want to get the buzz,” said veteran TV researcher Steve Sternberg. “The buzz is important in that advertisers pay attention to buzz. TBS is already one of the highest-rated cable networks. This is only going to enhance that.”