Conan O'Brien Inks Late-Night Deal With TBS
Show will launch in November, ‘Lopez Tonight' moving to midnight
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/12/2010 1:09:16 PM
The addition of O'Brien to TBS at 11 p.m. will push new late-night entry Lopez Tonight to midnight.
O'Brien left NBC as host of The Tonight Show earlier this year after much well-publicized wrangling over moving O'Brien's Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. in order to make room for a half-hour show hosted by Jay Leno.
According to TBS' press release, talks with O'Brien only began "in earnest" last week, after Lopez personally called O'Brien to join the network.
"I can't think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in," said Lopez in a statement.
Leno moved back into The Tonight Show chair in February, where he has regained his ratings lead over CBS' Late Show with David Letterman.
Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin said he only seriously began considering adding O'Brien to the TBS late-night lineup last week.
"It never dawned on us. We weren't there in January. We weren't there in February," he said.
Koonin said the graying of the broadcast network's late-night hosts and audience spurred him to pursue O'Brien.
"The broadcast networks late-night people are all in their 60s. Lopez is skewing so young. We don't we try to go build a late-night business for the next decade?"
Koonin called late-night television "the next battlefield" for TBS, which along with AMC, USA, FX and others, have challenged the broadcast networks' reign over original scripted series.
Koonin added that he made sure that Lopez, whose show was launched 8 months ago, was onboard with the O'Brien move.
"I went and visited [Lopez] privately in his office and told him what our plan was," said Koonin. "I asked him if he thought it was a good idea. He was so enthusiastic, he picked up the phone and called Conan O'Brien and the wheels started turning from there."
"In three months I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theater, and now I'm headed to basic cable," O'Brien said in the statement. "My plan is working perfectly."
O'Brien kicks off his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Comedy Tour today (Apr. 12). Per his $32 million exit agreement with NBC, O'Brien is contractually barred from appearing on television -- or saying anything disparaging about his former employer -- until Sept. 1.
O'Brien was in advanced talks for a late-night program on Fox, according to multiple sources. But the network's affiliate body was lukewarm on the idea. Many of them have lucrative syndicated programming in place in late-night, which would have pushed an O'Brien program to the wee hours on many stations. Fox was also said to be offering a short-term contract with a modest pay-day for O'Brien. Terms of the TBS deal were not disclosed.
Fox execs informed O'Brien's camp last week that they would not be able to make a deal at Fox, after determining they would not be able to clear the show widely enough or soon enough to make the economics work on the network's end, according to a source familiar with the deal. The execs, knowing O'Brien was negotiating elsewhere, agreed to keep that confidential until the new deal was announced.
Fox issued a statement Monday saying, "Conan is a great talent and we wish him every success."
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