Monday, April 12, 2010

Very Funny

Well. That was unexpected.

In a development foreseen by precisely no one, the Conan O'Brien Mystery Train ended its months-long sojourn today, and rather than pulling into station at Fox like most were prognosticating, it detoured right past the broadcast nets and ended up in basic cable-land for a weekday strip premiering in November on TBS.

Chronicler of late night Bill Carter has most of the details, with Nikki Finke providing minute-by-minute (by-minute-by-minute) updates, but the broad strokes are that O'Brien takes over the 11 PM slot currently held by George Lopez's Lopez Tonight, pushing it back one hour and creating a late night one-two punch that (TBS hope) gives them a toehold on that ever-important 18-39 demographic.

Considering that (Lopez notwithstanding) TBS's original comedy output has been pretty much limited to blue collar comedy and Tyler Perry sitcoms until now, you have to wonder if they were as surprised as us when Conan accepted their offer (which will pocket him a very tidy $10 mil a year, plus ownership of the as-yet-untitled show).

And lest one think O'Brien "pulled a Leno" on Lopez with the time slot switcheroo, it was Lopez encouraging the once-and-former Tonight host to take his slot that ultimately made the deal go down. And really, why wouldn't Lopez want this? Wherever Conan landed next was guaranteed to have a huge tune-in, and it stands to reason that a lot of those eyeballs will stick around.

Another upside is that by making his home on cable, it frees up Conan to play to the quirkier humor that was always his forte and that he had been forced to squeeze out during his Tonight tenure. With cable's smaller audience, the bar is adjusted accordingly, and the potential for success increases (the same way Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have thrived in their respective late night perches).

In the end, this is a pretty good situation for all concerned. It gets Conan back on TV by fall, which is what he wanted all along, it gives Lopez a very visible lead-in, and it keeps the Leno/Letterman Dance of Death in the same static equilibrium it's maintained since 1993. That last point is something I'm sure NBC and CBS are ecstatic about, rather than having to slice the shrinking late night pie even thinner with yet another broadcast competitor.

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