Wednesday, April 14, 2010

TBS is with Coco

“In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.” -- Conan O'Brien after announcing that he had signed with TBS and plans to air a late-night series for them in the fall.

Yeah, I'm just as surprised as you are.

After weeks of speculation and a slew of reports that Conan was in discussion with FOX about a late night talk show, O'Brien announced today, on the first day of his live tour, that he was joining cable network TBS.

Though Conan won't hit the basic cable airwaves until November, it's never to early to postulate about what the hell this "means" for Conan, TBS, FOX, the viewers and television as a whole! So let's do that.

What this means for Conan: He gets a series and is back on TV where he belongs -- even if the tour is a major hit.

Honestly, moving over to FOX wouldn't have been the best move for him after the PR shine wore off. The affiliates were uneasy, meaning he would have been on a tight leash from the beginning. Plus, he'd be expected to compete ratings-wise with Jay Leno and David Letterman -- something he absolutely could not do. Because of all that pressure, he'd have to shape his FOX show to be more mainstream, even if FOX is known as the edgiest of the major networks, and we saw how that worked out over at NBC.

Thus, he now gets to move to TBS with lots of hype but less pressure. He'll have a longer line to work with, more creative freedom and the opportunity to be the face of the network. Even if some expected him to go to cable on Comedy Central, TBS is a smart play.

What this means for TBS: Wow, what a coop for a basic cable network that has tried to convince people that it can produce real original content, but seemingly failed on most counts.

Originals like "10 Items or Less" and "My Boys" have been around for an extended period of time, but I don't know anyone who actually watches it. "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" is an abomination to television. And George Lopez's late night show has also been successful, but from what I've seen, not that good.

So TBS has the tagline of "Very Funny," but most of that funny-ness comes from reruns of popular sitcoms like "Seinfeld," "The Office" and "My Name is Earl." Meh.

Bringing Conan on board automatically gives TBS a credibility they didn't have at 10 a.m. today. This surely means more writers, producers and actors will be looking at TBS as a place for legitimate original comedic content, which only pushes their brand out there further.

What this means for FOX: Not scoring Conan isn't as big of a loss as you might think. It was fairly obvious from all the stories that have come out in the last week, the affiliates weren't sold on bringing Conan to FOX. Keeping reruns of sitcoms and "TMZ" on in the 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. hour is much more profitable for the local affiliates, so why wouldn't that want to hold on to that money-maker?

And if Conan would have moved to FOX and then failed to re-capture his "Late Night" glory, it would have been a minor media disaster as well as a sunk investment of sorts. Just because everyone thought Conan would go to FOX doesn't mean Conan going to FOX was a good idea.

What this means for the fans: Conan's back!

But seriously, what's good for Conan is good for audience, meaning that lower expectations and more leniency makes for a better Conan-related TV product. Hopefully, he'll be better to open it up even more than he did at the end of his "Tonight Show" run.

What this means for television: It's easy to suggest that one of network television's biggest stars moving to cable television is a huge swing in power -- and it might be. But I do think that we'll have to see how Conan's TBS product works first before declaring any revolutions have started.

But if Conan's series does bring more talent to the network, it does mean good things for TBS. That could then spur other basic cable nets to pursue bigger players and THEN build their own brands further. Again, lots of dominoes have to fall for this to become a larger influence on the landscape of television, but it's all in play.

More could change by November, but there's a lot of things going on with Conan's move to TBS. At worst, it's going to be very, very interesting -- and you could never say that about TBS programming before today.

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