In a surprise announcement, TBS revealed this morning that the former “Tonight Show” host 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 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.
Under terms of the deal, O’Brien will also get to own his new talker — something he wasn’t able to do at NBC, as “Tonight Show” was a Peacock-owned institution. (O’Brien and Fox hadn’t yet hammered out who might own the show under their possible arrangement.)
What’s more, the Turner move even helps out the cabler’s siblings over at Warner Bros. TV and Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution.
An O’Brien yakker on Fox would have eliminated potential buyers for off-net sitcoms across the country. With the half-hour genre making a comeback — and shows like Warners’ “The Big Bang Theory” about to go to market — the loss of Fox outlets might have impacted sales.
O’Brien will also give “Lopez,” produced by Warners’ Telepictures unit, a nice boost. “Lopez” is already posting decent numbers in young demos — and is seen as a nice alternative play for both Turner and Warners, given its multi-ethnic appeal.
Because “Lopez” was humming along, Turner wasn’t seen as a likely candidate for O’Brien. Airing one late-night talk show is an expensive enough proposition — running two would appear to be too rich for any basic cabler’s blood.
Other options included running an O’Brien show on FX, with some secondary runs on Fox-owned stations. Comedy Central was also mentioned as a possibility — but that cabler is locked up at 11 p.m. with “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”
“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.”
“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.”
Turner, meanwhile, is now set to potentially own even more of the young adult — particularly young male — late night aud.
Among adults 18-34, Turner’s Adult Swim network already holds supreme. The cabler beats every net, broadcast or otherwise, at night.
In that demo, it’s Adult Swim’s off-net run of “Family Guy” that holds the crown as king of latenight, and rivals aren’t even close.
Meanwhile, it’s believed that O’Brien will keep his show in Los Angeles. “Lopez Tonight” shoots on the Warner Bros. lot; options for Turner include renting out O’Brien’s old “Tonight Show” stage — still dark — on the nearby NBC Universal lot.
Although NBC U execs admit it would be awkward to once again house O’Brien on their premises — particularly because the O’Brien “Tonight Show” stage faces the tower where NBC execs are based — it’s also an opportunity for them to make back some of the money they spent just a year ago on the facility.
Under his exit package with NBC U, 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.