Conan O’Brien hopes fans will see more of his comedy even as he produces less of his flagship late-night TV show on TBS starting in 2019.
The comedian will move his “Conan,” which has been on TBS since November of 2010, to what he called a “leaner” half-hour format focused more on comedy. As a result, the show will tamp down on some of the usual late-night trappings such as multiple celebrity interviews. O’Brien said the new concept will leave him with more time to develop comedic routines for the TV show, but also to produce more content for a range of comedy-focused ventures he has been building as part of a broader partnership with the Time Warner-owned cable network.
O’Brien, who has worked his way from NBC’s “Late Night” and “Tonight” shows to TBS over the course of 25 years, said he has been looking for new ways to entertain given recent significant shifts in how people consume comedy and TV. “I was looking for something more lean and agile. I’ve been pushing for something that fits the modern landscape, certainly fits the way I interact with my fans more,” he noted during an interview with journalists Thursday. O’Brien has cultivated one of the youngest audiences for a late-night program, but many of his viewers don’t watch his linear broadcast in a way that can be easily monetized.
Many of TV’s late-night teams have begun to focus on content ventures outside their programs, which remain very popular but are also being consumed in ways that Johnny Carson would have never envisioned. When Carson reigned after the late local news, a mass audience all tuned in at the same time to see him. An aficionado of late-night humor in 2018 could pick from an array of streaming-video clips from Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, all passed along by friends or distributed through social media. And many of the programs have found success in creating everything from animated satires to game shows to social-media posts out of segments that first aired on their flagship programs.
“If there’s a way, a possibility that we can find other ways to spin off something, if I feel like it is worth people’s time and something that people might enjoy, yeah, that’s a possibility,” he said.
The comedian suggested viewers of “Conan” would see some changes, but not radical ones. “This is not, ‘Tune in, you’re going to see a whole new Conan with a shaved head and an eye patch and a falcon on his shoulder,” said O’Brien. He said his new program, which will begin to air in January of 2019, will likely feature just one celebrity guest rather than many, and will remain based in Los Angeles. “This is going to be me doing comedy as you’ve seen me doing,and an interview, probably, with a celebrity every night instead of two or three. Everything else beyond that we’re going to find it by doing it.”
Under the terms of a deal unveiled in 2017, TBS and O’Brien’s Conaco LLC were supposed to create more content for non-traditional venues: digital media, podcasts, mobile games, pay TV and live tours. O’Brien and TBS are also partners in other projects,such as the TBS comedy “People of Earth” and the animated series, “Final Space.” O’Brien’s production team also creates content for advertisers.
He will also unveil a website that lets fans see all of the programs he’s led over the years. Thanks to a licensing deal, he will be able to stream episodes of his time hosting NBC’s “Late Night.” O’Brien said he would love to be able to stream broadcasts of his seven-month stint on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” a famous time in the annals of TV history owing to the network’s decision to reinstate the host he replaced, Jay Leno, back in its 11:30 time slot. “My hope is we will get it,” he said.
Of TV’s many wee-hours hosts, O’Brien is presently the medium’s longest-serving. He first came to broader renown as the host of NBC’s “Late Night,” which he inherited from David Letterman on September 13, 1993. He had been a comedy writer for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” before Lorne Michaels put him forward as a potential candidate for host.
In recent years, O’Brien has placed new emphasis on a series of specials that have him traveling to different countries, like Cuba or Armenia. And he’s acknowledged an interest in trying new things. “I still love the form,” he said of late-night shows in remarks made in 2015, “but in a world where there are more and more and more and more shows, there actually is an impetus to — all right, I want to keep changing,” he said. “I want to do something radically different than I would have done 10 years ago.”