TBS did not cancel George Lopez because Conan O’Brien pushed him out - directly or indirectly. They did not cancel his show because of low ratings. George Lopez will no longer host a late night show on TBS for one reason and one reason only: being a late night host was not in his DNA. George Lopez didn’t want it badly enough. That is not meant as an insult, as Lopez is a huge talent with a following few of which I have seen. It is just a matter of fact. First, the background: Warner Bros inked Lopez to a deal a few years back and originally shopped him as a syndicated show. When they didn’t get that sold, they planted him on TBS in late night. And at the time (in 2009), Lopez told me that was better for him, as he would have to deal with less restrictions on content.
And from there, everyone knows what happened - his show launched and then one year later instead of fighting for carriage market-by-market on Fox, Conan O’Brien jumped to TBS. To this day, Team Coco maintains the big red head demanded Lopez’s blessing before he took the job, since Lopez would be relegated one hour later to midnight.
After complaining to everyone that would listen that he was pushed out by Jay Leno, Conan could not have the sacking (or even relegating) of George Lopez hung on him. It was right in the middle of what to this day is one of the most amazing media love affairs I have ever seen, with Conan even getting an eye-poppingly pandering feature from the normally authoritative 60 Minutes.
What happened for the next year depends on who you ask. Plenty of people I have spoken with said that Conan may have actually saved Lopez from cancellation before a second season, as TBS was ready to drop it after one year. Others will tell you that TBS was always going to keep Lopez on the air for one season after the Conan hire, that Conan mandated it for his reputation’s purposes, and then Lopez would be gone as of mid-August 2011 when his option came up (check your calendars, people).
Whatever the case, no one thought Lopez was going to make it in late night long term (unless you count reruns of his hit sitcom). The economics just weren’t there. And this just in: they seldom are in late night. Bill Carter from the New York Times and I were just talking about this last week - the days of the big late night talk show with a band and all the trimmings are gradually going the way of the dinosaur because the economics just are not there anymore.
So it seems all the cards were lined up for Lopez to not have a fighting chance. But here’s the thing - if his show had been great and had tons of buzz and his bits were lighting up the Internet, it may still be on the air. Or at the very least, you would be soon reading stories about to which other network he was taking his show next.
But it wasn’t, and that is because I don’t believe Lopez is cut from the same cloth as the successful late night hosts. In fact, that may be a compliment. He may be a little too adjusted.
George Lopez is a huge star. To this day, I still can’t believe the reception he got at a big boxing match in Los Angeles. Here is what I wrote back in 2009: “The other time Lopez stood out for me was when I was sitting down the row from him at a recent championship fight featuring Mexican-American slugger Antonio Margarito. When Lopez was shown on-camera, the pro-Margarito arena in Los Angeles went absolutely nuts, and when Lopez hammed it up by standing on his chair later during a break, you would have thought the entire crowd had paid to see him.”
That was no exaggeration. It was that impressive. But his star goes way beyond the Mexican community, as witnessed by his stellar career that includes a hit sitcom and a great stand-up career, among many other accolades.
However, that doesn’t make a good late night talk show host. To be a great talk show host, you need to be borderline deranged in your obsession with your nightly show. Look at those who are making it work: Letterman, Leno, Kimmel…they all live their shows like nothing you have ever seen.
I don’t claim to know Lopez well - we have golfed together, talked on the phone and had lunch together earlier this summer when his show was in flux. And I just never got the sense he lived it like the other guys. He has his golf game and his comedy and surely could land another sitcom or movie if he wanted it. I just never felt that he lived or died with Lopez Tonight. Or wanted to put in the ridiculous amount of work it takes to do a great monologue, book great guests, do taped comedy that can be Internet sensations, and be a great interviewer night after night.
And that’s what makes him so different from the other guys. Love him or hate him, Leno is all about his show (okay, and his cars). Letterman is famously off as a human being, but on like no other when the clock hits 11:35. And Kimmel’s passion for being a late night star has made him a late night franchise when there were plenty of cards against him: a tough timeslot with a bad lead-in, past execs who always seemed to be looking for someone to replace him, and the fact his show is probably on the wrong network (he would be a much better fit on Fox, undoubtedly, than on the female-soap driven ABC). But Jimmy Kimmel is obsessed with being a late night host, and that’s why he is heading to Chicago this week to celebrate a time period upgrade.
All of the above is why I wondered openly about Jimmy Fallon when he got Conan’s old slot. Was he settling for this because his movie career stalled? But Fallon has proven me wrong by becoming a big hit at 12:35. His comedy bits are all over the Web, his ratings are solid, and he has positioned himself as a strong candidate to replace Jay Leno when he dies.
And as for Craig Ferguson - I am on the record as saying he is fantastic - and I think he would be even better in daytime.
And by not listing the cable stars like Chelsea Handler (still at E! for another year and change at least, though a constant source of rumors) and the Comedy Central boys, that is not a slight - those are just different shows than one-hours with comedy, music and guests.
Look, George Lopez will be fine. I talked to a very high-ranking exec at Warner Bros. last week when I caught wind this was coming down, and they told me that no matter what happens, they love George and would love to look at other projects as long as he has a deal at the studio.
And I don’t mind saying I like George personally, and think Letterman alum Robert Morton and the team did as good a job as they could under the circumstances. But the bottom line is, George Lopez is a huge talent and a huge star. I just don’t think he ever wanted to truly do what it takes to be a late night talk show host. He may just be too normal a person.