Entertainment Industry

Category: TBS

Warner Bros. delivers for Time Warner in third quarter

Time Warner Inc. said it had third-quarter profits of $822 million,  much of driven by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."

Harry Potter went out with a bang.

Time Warner Inc. said Wednesday it had third-quarter profits of $822 million, a 57% increase compared with the same period a year ago, and revenues of $7.07 billion, a jump of 11%.

Much of the gains were driven by the strong box-office performance of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." The last chapter of the long-running Warner Bros. franchise took in $1.3 billion around the world. For the quarter, Time Warner's filmed entertainment unit, which also includes television production, had revenues of $3.3 billion, up 17% from the third quarter of 2010. Operating income went from $209 million to $528 million.

But Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes was quick to tell analysts that Warner Bros. was more than a one-man show.

"It wasn’t all about Harry at Warner Bros.," Bewkes told analysts during a conference call Wednesday morning. "Contagion" and "Horrible Bosses" were also strong performers for the studio, as was revenue from reruns of its hit sitcom "The Big Bang Theory."

Even though the current television season is not even two months old, Bewkes expressed confidence that Warner Bros.-produced new shows, including the sitcoms "Two Broke Girls" and "Suburgatory" and the drama "Persons of Interest," would be long-term moneymakers for the studio.

"Our syndication pipeline is built," Bewkes said, adding that a hit comedy is still the "holy grail" of the television business, with the potential to become "multibillion-dollar annuities."

Although Warner Bros. is on a roll, Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting is still going through some growing pains. Overall, Time Warner's networks group, which includes HBO, had revenues of $1.09 billion, an increase of about 6%. However, operating income fell 4% to $1.09 billion.

Although the new TNT original series "Falling Skies" was solid and "The Big Bang Theory" repeats are delivering for TBS, much of the other programming on the two networks is struggling.

"TBS and TNT ratings were softer than anticipated," said Time Warner Chief Financial Officer John Martin.

Bewkes also hinted that Turner Broadcasting would be willing to kick the tires of the NFL, which has talked about introducing a new eight-game package. However, he stressed that he would only buy NFL rights if the company could make money on it, saying he wasn't interested in a loss-leader.

Bewkes also took a little shot at Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable operator, which was spun off from Time Warner a little over two years ago. During its recent earnings call, Time Warner Cable suggested that growth prospects for the premium channel sector, which includes HBO, was slowing.

That, Bewkes said, was "kind of a backward-looking statement they made."

Bewkes has been frustrated with Time Warner Cable for not launching a new HBO service that allows subscribers to watch the channel on their iPads. Cablevision, another large cable operator, is also yet to sign a deal for the service, which is called HBO Go.

Although Bewkes did not call out either cable operator by name, he said he was "hopeful for their sake" that HBO Go would be available to their subscribers in the next few months.

-- Joe Flint


Fading TV sales pushes Sony into the red

Last "Harry Potter" film breaks box-office record

Comcast profit up 5%, though NBC and Universal film struggle

Photo: Daniel Radcliffe in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." Credit: Warner Bros.

Turner Broadcasting goes for three with Tyler Perry

Turner Broadcasting has ordered a third television series from Tyler Perry, but this time the prolific producer is tweaking the format with a single-camera comedy-drama tentatively titled "For Better or Worse."

TBS has enjoyed huge success with Perry's traditional multi-camera and multi-generation family sitcoms: "Tyler Perry's House of Payne," which is ending its long run after 222 episodes, and "Meet the Browns," which launched two years ago. The new show, an offshoot of Perry's film series "Why Did I Get Married?" is expected to explore the ups and downs of three married couples and star Michael Jai White, Tasha Smith and Rick Fox.

TylerPerry The network has ordered 10 episodes of the new series from Debmar-Mercury, a division of Lionsgate, which has long championed Perry and his out-of-the-ordinary business model. Production of the new series is expected to begin this summer at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. The air date is scheduled for late fall.

Debmar-Mercury's and Perry's relationship with TBS dates back five years. In 2006, Debmar-Mercury tested Perry's 10-episode pilot of "House of Payne" on 10 local independent stations before getting the green light from the network. Viewers lapped up the series' humor, and the Time Warner Inc. channel ordered an additional 100 episodes to air nationally on TBS.

The deal was a departure from the TV industry's normal practice. Typically, a network orders 22 or 24 episodes a season and executives cross their fingers that the show will be popular enough to last at least four seasons -- the benchmark for a syndication sale.

"Even though it will be sad to say goodbye to "House of Payne," which has taught me so much about what it takes to make a successful television series, I'm really looking forward to exploring new territory with 'For Better or Worse,'" Perry said in a statement.

-- Meg James

Photo: Tyler Perry Credit: Steve Marcus / Reuters


Can Conan O'Brien bring his Twitter audience to TBS?

Conan O'Brien has almost 2 million followers on Twitter. Can he get that many people to watch his new late-night show, which premieres tonight on TBS?

CONAN Over the weekend, O'Brien himself was wondering just that in his own sarcastic way. He tweeted: "48 hours until a show that will either blow up the paradigm of TV as we know it, or nestle comfortably among 'Yes, Dear' reruns."

It's been only 10 months since O'Brien walked away as host of NBC's "Tonight Show" and Jay Leno took back the job. Since then, he's grown a beard, gone on a tour, made lots of fun of NBC and inspired yet another book about late-night TV from New York Times reporter Bill Carter.

At NBC, O'Brien was averaging 2.6 million viewers a night, which wasn't enough to keep him in the job. This season, Jay Leno is averaging 3.64 million viewers; CBS' David Letterman, 3.57 million; and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, 1.71 million.

The numbers from O'Brien's first week won't really be an accurate predictor of how he'll do over the long run. TBS has been promoting the heck out of the show, and some predictions are for as many as 4 million viewers to tune in Monday night. His guests are actor Seth Rogen and "Glee" star Lea Michele.

But that may be optimistic. Brad Adgate of Horizon Media thinks O'Brien should draw the same number of viewers he had at NBC, for about 2.6 million viewers his first night, and stay north of 2 million for the week.

As he settles in, though, the viewers tuning in out of mere curiosity will start to fade and TBS will get a better sense of whether O'Brien will deliver numbers on par with his broadcast rivals or whether the network will have some explaining to do to all the advertisers that bought time on the show. TBS has boasted that it is getting the same amount of money for a 30-second spot -- $30,000 to $40,000 --  that NBC and CBS command.

If advertisers are paying that much for the show, then O'Brien will need to do more than keep pace with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." This year, "The Daily Show" has averaged averaged 2.1 million viewers.

If O'Brien doesn't deliver, you never know -- TBS could decide to put George Lopez on in the 10 p.m. hour in front of him.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Evan Agostini / Associated Press

The Morning Fix: Oscar working on timing. Hasbro and Discovery not toying around. `Superman' has its director.

After the coffee. Before yet another flight to New York.

The Skinny: Discovery's and Hasbro's new kids channel doesn't premiere until Sunday, but the critics are already pouncing. Can't Google everyone with Google TV. "Superman" has its next director. The FCC wants more dirt from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review

Oscars on the move. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to move the annual Oscar Awards telecasts from its current home of the end of February or early March to January or early February. The motivation is to make the Oscars one of the first awards shows instead of the last so there is less chance of awards-show fatigue impacting the telecast's ratings. The challenge is finding a new home that won't get run over by football. Huh? That's right, football. See, the NFL wants to expand its regular season to 18 games (that's a debate for another day) and if (when) that happens, it will mean the Super Bowl and probably some of the playoffs will get pushed well into February. That means the Oscar folks (and host network ABC) have to find a home where they won't bump up against all that football hype on rival networks and still get ahead of other shows. The scoop from the Los Angeles Times.

Not toying around. On Sunday, Discovery and Hasbro will launch "The Hub," a new cable channel aimed primarily at kids age 6-11. Not only will it face tough competition from entrenched channels such as Viacom's Nickelodeon and Disney's Disney Channel and Disney XD, it will also be scrutinized by media watchdogs. That's because there are concerns that Hasbro will try to make the network into nothing but ads for its toys. The channel's boss, respected kids TV executive Margaret Loesch, says that won't be the case and that only about 20% of Hub shows are based on Hasbro products. But will that be enough to silence the critics? More on The Hub from the Los Angeles Times.

Google this! Google, the search engine that wants to become the connector between the Internet and the television, unveiled its content partners, but the list was more notable for who wasn't on it. While several cable networks, including CNBC, HBO and Turner Broadcasting are on board, the big broadcast networks are steering clear of Google -- for now anyway. To get Google TV, at least in its early incarnation, you'll need either a Sony high-definition TV set, a Blu-ray player or a special set-top box. In other words, it may take a little while for this thing to take off. More on Google's small-screen dreams from the New York Times.

Peace accord. Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa is shelling out $130 million for a 5% stake in Univision and an additional $1.07 billion in convertible debt that translates into 30% of Univision's shares, according to the Wall Street Journal. Besides giving Univision a much needed infusion, it ends years of acrimony between the two media giants.

And the backlash begins. Although many critics are worshiping "The Social Network" and already talking about how many Oscar nominations it should get, gripes about the portrayal of women in the movie are starting to surface. Missing from the movie, says Rebecca Davis O'Brien in the Daily Beast, are women who aren't "doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys." 

He's baaack! Former NBC Enertainment chief Ben Silverman is back to doing what he does best -- making new versions of successful shows. He's near a deal to make a sitcom for ABC based on an old Latin American comedy called "I Hate This Place." Not sure what's more ironic, that ABC -- whose old entertainment chief Steve McPherson loathed Silverman -- will be home for the show or that Deadline Hollywood, which relished in Silverman's downfall at NBC, was where the story was leaked.

Super Director. Zack Snyder, whose credits include "300" and "Watchmen," has been tapped to direct the latest version of "Superman" for Warner Bros. and Legend Pictures. Chris Nolan will produce. Deadline Hollywood on the choice and what Snyder's thoughts are about taking on the franchise.

Where's mine? The Wrap makes the shocking discovery that even in a field as challenged as journalism, there are some people pulling down huge salaries. Next you'll tell me there are hockey players making big bucks too. The hook for the story is that Michael Ausiello, an Entertainment Weekly writer best known for his television casting scoops, is launching his own website, backed by the owners of Deadline Hollywood. Hey, if someone wants to pay top dollar for content, you'll get no complaints from me.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Thomas Tull, the chairman of Legendary Pictures, is buying out his original investors and has new partners in Fortress Investment Group and Fidelity. The Federal Communications Commission wants more inside information from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review of their pending merger. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter and I'll tweet you something special. Twitter.com/JBFlint

The Morning Fix: Big bucks for 'Big Bang'! Weinstein Co. makes splash at Toronto. Reality bites on broadcast.

After the coffee. Before wondering why Fashion Week snubbed me.

Reality bites. The Wall Street Journal uses the overhaul of Fox's "American Idol" to check in on the state of the reality TV biz. Heading into the fall season, the WSJ notes that the five broadcast networks have scheduled 14 hours of reality shows, the lowest number since 2005. Of course, in fairness, a lot of reality shows usually come on in mid-season to replace new comedies and dramas that didn't work. Also, although broadcast may be backing away from reality shows, the story doesn't note how huge they've become on cable. TLC, MTV, Bravo and dozens of other channels are basically reality-show factories these days. As for "American Idol," we're all still waiting for Fox and the producers to announce Steven Tyler, the Aerosmith singer, and performer Jennifer Lopez as the new judges. Actually, does anyone care anymore?

Big paycheck for "Big Bang Theory." Deadline Hollywood has the details on the new contracts for the stars of the CBS hit "The Big Bang Theory." Most interesting was how Warner Bros. TV, which makes the show, managed to get breakout star Jim Parsons to take the same deal as his co-stars. Initially, the Emmy winner had been holding out for a bigger deal, but Warner Bros. played hardball. The raises come in the wake of Warner Bros. selling repeats of the program to TBS. In other words, this is the reward for the last few years as much as it is a raise going forward.

They're back! The Weinstein Co., apparently trying to move on from founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein's unsuccessful effort to buy back Miramax from Walt Disney Co., has been making a splash at the Toronto International Film Festival. According to Variety, the Weinstein Co. picked up North American rights for a British coming-of-age comedy called "Submarine," its second purchase after springing for "Dirty Girl." Lionsgate has also been busy as it and specialty subside Roadside bought U.S. rights to Robert Redford's "The Conspirator," which is from new Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts

Brother, can you spare a dime? Veteran movie banker Clark Hallren, who left JPMorgan last year to create Clear Scope Partners, has a grim financing forecast for the movie industry. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hallren, who worked on the initial IPO for DreamWorks Animation, said "it's a good time not to be a banker." Why? Well, Hallren notes that foreign banks are not doing as many deals and the risks in the movie business have skyrocketed.

You say show, I say advertisement. An advocacy group is going after Nickelodeon, charging that one of its new shows is nothing more than an advertisement dressed up as a kids cartoon. The show, "Zevo-3," premieres on Nicktoons next month (actually the day after Hub, a new rival kids channel from Discovery and Hasbro, launches) and is based on characters that were created for a marketing campaign by the shoe company Skechers. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has sent a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to stop Nickelodeon from proceeding with the show. The FCC does have rules regarding advertising and kids programming, but Nickelodeon parent Viacom counters that although the characters of the show may have been inspired by the ads, it is not violating any government regulations. More on the skirmish from the New York Times.

Missing the point. The Hollywood Reporter has a story Thursday declaring that "fat is making a comeback in Hollywood" and suggesting that we can all "forget about" the super-skinny actresses that fill just about every show on broadcast and cable. What the story doesn't note is that most of these shows are reality shows about losing weight and that their overall message is that there is something wrong with the people on the show. Although obesity is a real issue, many of these shows are just exploiting people in the hopes of ratings. In other words, Hollywood is not suddenly embracing people who you can actually still see when they turn sideways.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Sirius XM Chief Executive Mel Karmazin said he is confident that Howard Stern will sign a new deal with the satellite radio broadcaster. MGM got its seventh (that's right, seventh) forbearance on its debt payments. Lucas Cruikshank is building an empire with his Fred Figglehorn character.

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter because I said so: Twitter.com/JBFlint

The Morning Fix: Google is coming for your TV! CBS has passage to India. BermanBraun rakes in some new dollars. Morty's back in late night.

After the coffee. Before yet another flight to New York. And in August no less.

Google is coming! Google is coming! Search giant Google is getting serious about its small-screen aspirations. The company has been meeting with broadcast and cable networks to try to get access to their content for its new Google TV application that will allow consumers to watch TV through the Web. Of course content providers want to make sure they a) get paid for their programming and b) don't alienate the cable and satellite distributors who already carry their channels. Google's real aim to is to get more ad dollars and leave Apple's television aspirations in the dust. More on Google's big push and what the challenges will be from the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.

What's a million dollars between friends? Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. made headlines this week for its $1-million donation to the Republican Governors Assn. This, of course, gave fuel to the left to take shots at Murdoch's Fox News operation. Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, who also works for Fox News rival CNN, followed up on Tuesday's story on this from Politico. A News Corp. spokesman told Kurtz that it is "patently false" that a donation by News Corp. would somehow influence coverage at Fox News. By the way, lots of media companies give money to political causes. The New York Times also weighed in with a article on Rupert's largess. 

Really, it'll happen. Variety checks on Disney's deal to sell Miramax to Ron Tutor, the big-shot construction guy (sorry, I'm tired of saying "construction magnate") and says that although the pact was announced weeks ago, the financing is still not nailed down. The deadline to close is Sept. 7, and odds seem long that it will be met. Of course, Disney could extend it or go back on the market and see if Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein want to make one more run. 

A passage to India. CBS and India's Reliance Broadcast Network Limited announced early Wednesday morning their plans to launch a joint venture that will create three English-language television channels. The networks, which will launch later this year, will feature both current CBS content and library fare as well. CBS becomes the latest U.S. media company to try to build a presence in India. Here's an early take from the Hollywood Reporter and an old story about the talks from the Wall Street Journal, just to bring you up to speed.

Morty's back. Veteran producer Robert "Morty" Morton is coming back to late night as the show runner for TBS' "Lopez Tonight." Morton was the longtime executive producer for David Letterman. The move comes as Lopez prepares for his show to relocate to midnight to make room for Conan O'Brien. Details from Broadcasting & Cable

Read at your own risk. The Wrap says it has come across an e-mail with details of what is in development at Paramount Pictures. Among the projects are a Will Smith movie from director Kathryn Bigelow and a comedy starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. Paramount told the Wrap that some of the material in the e-mail is right and some it is wrong.

Digital dollars. BermanBraun, the entertainment company headed by former TV big shots Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, has roped in $100 million in advertising commitments from Starcom, a big agency whose clients include Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart. The money is for BermanBraun's digital operations, including its websites Wonderwall and Glo. The New York Times, which always seems to have the inside scoop on these guys, has the story, as does the Wall Street Journal blog All Things D. They can flip a coin to decide which one was fed this first. 

Turner on a roll. "Rizzoli & Isles," the female detective drama featuring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander, is the latest hit for TNT. Although it has hardly been a critical smash, it is drawing big audiences and proves that there is a big appetite for what Ad Age calls "meat and potatoes"-type programming. Variety also weighs in on a piece about cable's hot summer.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Dr. Laura says goodbye to radio. Just because the star leaves, that doesn't mean the show can't go on. Haim Saban buys Julius the Monkey.

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter. I've been known to tweet from airplanes. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Time Warner earnings improve on ad growth, including first sales for Conan O'Brien

Bewkes2 Conan O'Brien hasn't even started appearing on TBS and parent company Time Warner is already bragging about his impact on its bottom line. Although O'Brien's late-night show doesn't premiere on the cable network until November, advertising sales for the show are brisk, Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes said Wednesday.

"We saw strong demand for Conan O’Brien," he said on a conference call with analysts to discuss the company's second quarter earnings, adding that the late-night host's upcoming show was drawing an ad rate per thousand viewers similar to what he attracted on NBC.

The media giant, whose holdings include TBS, TNT, CNN, HBO and Time Inc., said second quarter net income rose 7% to $562 million in the quarter ended June 30 compared with the same period a year ago. Revenues were up 8% to $6.4 billion. Time Warner credited a strong advertising market. Ad revenue was up 14% at the Turner networks, the biggest such increase in six years.

Total revenue for Time Warner's networks group, which includes the pay cable HBO, increased 11% to $3.17 billion. Ad revenue wasn't the only growth engine. There was a 9% increase in subscriptions to $1.85 billion, the fees paid by cable and satellite operators to carry Time Warner's cable channels. Operating income grew 14% to $981 million.

Bewkes told analysts that his company has seen significant increases both in the upfront, when advertisers buy time in advance of the new season, and the scatter market, when they purchase time piecemeal during the season.

Chief Financial Officer John Martin said it's unclear how long the recent ad growth can last. "While it may be difficult for us to maintain quite the pace of this quarter's growth, we do expect another quarter of strong advertising growth in the third quarter," he said.

The conglomerate's film and TV studio Warner Bros. was the one division to see a slight drop in adjusted operating income, to $173 million from $176 million, though revenue grew 8% to $2.5 billion. The studio saw higher costs for production and advertising in the quarter ended June 30 and had some box-office disappointments in "Jonah Hex" and "The Losers." Home video revenue was down 8%, Martin said, but revenue from digital distribution grew by a sizable 50% and now represents nearly 20% of the studio's total home video pie.

In response to an analyst's question, Bewkes said Warner Bros. has seen a positive impact on DVD sales and video on demand from the deals it struck with Redbox and Netflix to hold back its movies from being available for rental through those services until 28 days after they launch. However, other studios that offer their movies via Redbox's $1 per night kiosks and Netflix's subscription service at the same time they go on sale, such as Paramount Pictures, have said they have seen opposite results.

Time Warner stock was trading up less than 1% at $32.55 after financial results were released Wednesday morning.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Jeff Bewkes. Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters.

How badly did Murdoch want Conan? Maybe not badly enough

It's been more than 24 hours since Conan O'Brien announced he signed a deal to take his late-night show to the cable network TBS -- not  Fox, as many in the industry expected. Now that an entire day has passed, it is time for some deep reflection and analysis, the kind that can only come after taking some real time to look at all the angles in a story.

In today's media world, one day is about all the time we have, so take this for what it is worth.

There is a lot of talk about whether Fox was beaten to Conan by TBS or if it had already passed on him. As Company Town noted early and often, there were always lots of hurdles to Fox getting  O'Brien for late night. The TV stations that Fox owns and the network's affiliates have long-term deals to show reruns of sitcoms late at night, and they make a lot of money from those shows. The affiliates really were not too keen on giving up valuable real estate and revenue to Fox.

Yes, those were real issues, but some two decades (sigh) of covering Fox and its parent News Corp. also tells me that when Rupert Murdoch wants something, he usually gets it. If Murdoch firmly believed that establishing a show in late night was vital to Fox's future (as was the case when the network went after David Letterman all those years ago), he and News Corp. President Chase Carey would have browbeat affiliates into carrying O'Brien on their stations at 11 p.m. across the country. It wouldn't have been pretty, but it would have been done. Crikey, he bought the Wall Street Journal at a time when everyone thinks print's future is, uh -- well, bleak would be the kindest word for it.

Ultimately, signing O'Brien was not crucial enough to Fox for Murdoch and Carey to roll up their sleeves. Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice and President Kevin Reilly may have done a lot of number-crunching, and internally all may have agreed that O'Brien would be a great "get," but the headaches were too great and the rewards too few.

The risks for TBS are much lower. Its "affiliates" are cable operators that already pay the network to receive its programming. If O'Brien delivers an audience (and it doesn't have to be a huge audience, we're talking cable here), then TBS wins more ad revenue and can boost the rates in fees it charges cable operators.

Of course, you know who ultimately picks up the tab for that.

-- Joe Flint

Conan will have ownership of his TBS show

ConanO One of the perceived snags of Conan O'Brien going to cable was that he wouldn't get the same kind of big paycheck that he'd gotten at NBC and would probably command from Fox.

But as part of his deal with Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting to host a late-night show on TBS, O'Brien will have ownership of the show. That will give him the potential to make a lot more money than if he were just a hired hand hosting a show owned by a network. O'Brien's deal is for five years.

A deal between O'Brien's camp and TBS was struck in about 72 hours, according to people involved in the talks. TBS had previously indicated it was not interested in O'Brien, but Turner Entertainment chief Steve Koonin said in an interview that was in part because "we assumed he had a deal with Fox."

Koonin reached out to O'Brien's team and then went back to his own late-night host, George Lopez, who was also enthusiastic about the idea of bringing Conan to TBS. O'Brien will have his show at 11 p.m. and Lopez will move to midnight. Though Lopez will have a later time period, he will probably also have a bigger lead-in audience.

With its deal to have Conan O'Brien anchor its late-night line-up, TBS finally seems poised to step out of the shadow of its sexier younger sister TNT. TBS has always been a cash cow for Time Warner but is still primarily known for its reruns of broadcast sitcoms such as "Family Guy" and "The Office."

"We think Conan will of course help us attract other talent," Koonin said.

Fox, meanwhile, has not issued any statement about the O'Brien deal. Interestingly, the network is set to meet with its affiliates at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, where the idea of O'Brien coming to Fox was expected to be a topic of discussion.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Conan O'Brien in his office at Universal Studios last year. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Conan O'Brien going to TBS in a return to late night

Conan O'Brien is going to cable.

The former host of NBC's "Tonight Show," who lost the program to Jay Leno earlier this year, has signed a deal for a new late-night program on TBS, the basic cable network owned by Time Warner. O'Brien's show will start in November at 11 p.m. George Lopez, the comedian who currently occupies that slot, will have his show move to midnight.

"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," O'Brien said in a statement.

The deal with TBS is sure to catch many by surprise. Most industry observers expected O'Brien to land at Fox. While Fox's top entertainment executives Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly were on board with going after O'Brien, persuading Fox's affiliates to carry the show was going to be more challenging. That's because those stations make a lot of money from the reruns they currently run at 11 p.m. This was also an issue for the stations owned by Fox itself.

The talks with TBS heated up in the last two weeks. As recently as a month ago, Turner executives had indicated they had little interest in going after O'Brien. Lopez has given them some solid numbers with younger viewers and is a contrast to Comedy Central's late-night duo of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.

But in the last few weeks, Turner's entertainment chief Steve Koonin changed his mind and started negotiating with O'Brien to come to the cable channel. O'Brien was game but did not want to go without Lopez being on board with the idea.

Turner executives huddled with Lopez and Warner Bros.' Telepictures Productions, which makes the show, and got the go-ahead.

"I can't think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in," Lopez said. "It's the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy."

-- Joe Flint


Conan will have ownership of his TBS show


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