Every major late-night program has ceased production, no matter whether it’s Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon in New York or Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden around Los Angeles, all due to concerns about bringing live audiences and production crews together at a single time. But O’Brien, the longest-tenured late-night host among the current crop, intends to resume his TBS program, with writers and producers working remotely.
O’Brien “likes to work. He likes to make stuff – as we all do. We are in the business of making content and this what we do. The idea that we can’t do it is a little frustrating,” says Jeff Ross, the late-night host’s longtime executive producer, in an interview. “We have a staff that wants to work, that doesn’t want to not get paid, and you just want to keep the business going.”
Starting on Monday, March 30, new episodes of O’Brien’s “Conan” will start to air on TBS. The shows will be shot remotely on an iPhone, without an audience and with guest interviews being filmed via video chat. Approximately 75 people help put the TV show together, says Ross, and the staff’s safety remains a paramount concern.
“The quality of my work will not go down because technically that’s not possible,” says O’Brien in a statement.
The news will likely be welcomed by WarnerMedia, which, like other media companies grappling with the coronavirus crisis, finds itself suddenly unable to show live sports matches and many programs that are produced live to tape. Late-night shows tend to attract the younger audiences that advertisers covet. TBS’ “Full Frontal,” led by Samantha Bee, has also gone on hiatus.
“Conan” was supposed to be on hiatus this week, but O’Brien has been filming short videos in hopes of bringing some laughs to a populace that has been forced to sequester itself in homes and apartments.
“We were making stuff and putting it out and trying to be a distraction, but we just realized – why not just do the show?” asked Ross. “It will be different ,and it may not be pretty, but we’re going to do it.”
O’Brien has in recent years proven eager to experiment with the format, producing several humor-filled “Conan Without Borders” excursions to places like Cuba, Haiti and Israel. In recent months, he has worked to push the envelope in the time slot, vowing to find a way to make late-night programming relevant to younger viewers who tend to watch segments of the programs that are passed around via social media the day after a show runs. His “Conan” went from being an hour long to a half-hour format in 2019 in a nod to a new generation’s viewing habits.
Other late-night hosts this week have begun offering original monologues and segments online, with Stephen Colbert mixing in the new material with repeats already scheduled to run on CBS. NBC said Wednesday that its “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” would also begin to add original segments produced by Fallon to previously broadcast material.