Wow, that title is obnoxious, isn’t it?
No new Chuck last night (boo), but there was some pretty giant news circulating around the television world – after some well-publicized conversations about moving to FOX, Conan O’Brien has made a deal for a new late night show on TBS.
It’s easy to begin with an initial reaction of slight confusion. “Wait, there are things on TBS besides sitcom reruns?” But that sort of confusion quickly begins to look like an opportunity with a lot of potential, both for Conan and TBS. The last time I felt a little bemused about an interesting show being aired in a strange place, it was “What’s this whole Mad Men business, and since when does AMC do anything other than replay old movies?” And of course, that show is now totally forgotten by history…
Actually, TBS is much farther along in the process of building its brand and creating original programming than AMC was when Mad Men came along. It has a few original sitcoms that it airs along with its strong but admittedly uninspiring lineup of reruns – Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, and My Boys, which has gotten some good critical responses. TBS also has a foundation for its expansion into late night in the form of George Lopez’ Lopez Tonight, which has the youngest late night audience, but hasn’t yet been able to transform TBS into a stand-out cable destination in the way that The Daily Show has done for Comedy Central. Conan could be exactly what TBS needs. He’s a big name with an established audience who will draw new eyes to the channel, and the publicity and notoriety of his exit from The Tonight Show will garner a lot of curiosity about what his next late night venture might look like.
And despite Conan’s own ribbing about the career trajectory of moving from a major network show to basic cable, TBS could be good for Conan as well. TBS’s younger audience will resonate more with the Conan of Late Night than the staid comedy he was attempting on The Tonight Show, and there are words you can say and things you can do on basic cable that are still not okay on a network.
It’s not an instant home run. There’s not a lot of information yet about what the show would look like or whether it will follow the usual late night talk show format. Some of my favorite bits of Conan’s Late Night came directly from his irreverent but pleasant interview style, so a move to TBS does make one wonder what sorts of guests will want to appear and how the show will be able to bring in big names. Conan’s show will also be up against the Daily Show/Colbert Report block, which will be some significant competition for the show’s anticipated audience. It will also remain to be seen whether Conan alone can boost the visibility for an entire network. But that’s some pretty heavy weight to put on Conan’s shoulders, and as long as he succeeds at a much more modest objective, I think the show will be great. It just needs to be funny.