In a surprise announcement, TBS revealed this morning that former “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien would join the cabler in the 11 p.m. time slot this November.
“Lopez Tonight,” which currently airs there, will shift to midnight. Like “Lopez,” the as-yet untitled O’Brien show will air four days a week, Mondays through Thursdays.
“In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable,” O’Brien said. “My plan is working perfectly.”
News was timed to the kick off of O’Brien’s “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour, which starts Monday night in Eugene, Ore.
O’Brien had been widely expected to seal a deal with Fox — and execs at the broadcast network remained optimistic last week that a deal could eventually be hammered out.
But Fox was running into serious financial roadblocks in clearing a late night yakker.
It’s was a given that divisions such as the Fox TV Stations, Twentieth Television and 20th Century Fox TV would all take at least a short-term financial hit should an O’Brien latenighter become a reality for Fox.
And given the off-net sitcom contracts that Fox’s O&Os — and most of its affiliates — have in place, it was looking more likely that an O’Brien show would air at 11:30 p.m., and even midnight in some markets, instead of 11 p.m. after Fox affils’ 10 p.m. newscasts.
Considering that O’Brien exited NBC after that network downgraded his timeslot, O’Brien likely didn’t want to have to wait years to secure full in-pattern clearances on Fox across the country.
TBS, on the other hand, allows O’Brien to be seen virtually nationwide, in-pattern, immediately.
According to TBS, talks began in earnest just last week — and after “Lopez Tonight” star George Lopez personally gave O’Brien a call.
“I can’t think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in,” Lopez said. “It’s the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy.”
Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin called O’Brien “the comedic voice for a generation.”
“TBS already has a huge audience of young comedy lovers, and Conan’s show will give these fans even more reasons to watch our network,” Koonin said.
Lopez’s talk show already posts the youngest median age among all latenight talkers. Koonin said he saw an opportunity to expand on that young audience.
For decades, late-night TV has been dominated by broadcast television,” Koonin said. “Now, with a young audience and a growing late-night lineup, TBS is set to be the choice of comedy fans for years to come.”
Under his exit package, O’Brien is able to host a new late night show starting in September.
He’s also able to start conducting TV interviews in May (with some restrictions on what he can say about NBC and the January late night kerfuffle). Given Monday’s announcement, it will probably be no surprise if O’Brien gives his first sit-down chat to Lopez.