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George Lopez explains why he made room for Conan O'Brien on TBS

April 13, 2010 |  9:55 am

George Lopez wants everyone to know he has not been "Lenoed."  He's also not moving "for the white man," as Chris Rock joked on "Lopez Tonight" on Monday night.

Lopez, who has been hosting his own TBS late-night talk show since November, said in a phone interview with The Times on Tuesday morning that he agreed to move "Lopez Tonight" to midnight in the fall to make room for a new Conan O'Brien show because "I’m in the George Lopez business. I believe that Conan O’Brien coming to TBS is good for my business. And not only good for my business in November, but good for my business between now and November and when Conan gets there and into the future."

TBS' announcement on Monday that O'Brien would be joining the network with a new show at 11 p.m., shifting "Lopez Tonight" an hour later, included a statement from Lopez that he was on board with the move. But that wasn't enough to quell speculation that, ironically, Lopez was suffering the same fate that left O'Brien without his "Tonight Show" gig only seven months into the job.

"I don’t feel like I’m moving for the red man," Lopez said and laughed. "It’s a partnership that works. I don’t mind following Conan. I’ve only been at 11 for five months, and it will be a year when Conan comes. So I’ll take my audience and move it to 12. I don’t read into it the way that people on Twitter do. I don’t read into it the way that people with a negative opinion do. I don’t need to be on TV other than to do something I really want to do. I like this show at 11. And I like it at 12. It doesn’t change the way I’m thinking about the ideas for my show or my staff or TBS. I think it is an aggressive move that puts TBS, with Conan and I, above what is happening on late-night right now, which is a little bit stagnant now. This moves the needle."

From the start, Turner Entertainment Networks Steve Koonin included Lopez in the discussion. Last Wednesday, Koonin flew to Burbank to meet with Lopez and explain what he had in mind. Koonin told Lopez if it was going to happen, it needed to happen quickly and with his support. Lopez says the plan immediately made sense to him. With O'Brien's appeal to a young audience and the momentum he and his brand of comedy have right now, Lopez saw only a win-win situation.

"I thought that since I already have a younger demographic, with a smaller audience — I’ve only been on five months — it would be a perfect match," Lopez said. "Conan's younger and being fresher and having a different approach, I think it's a perfect match that not only can succeed but be on TV for a long time and TBS a true destination in late night, which would take it away completely from the [broadcast] networks."

Koonin asked Lopez to speak to O'Brien. The two comedians, who met in 2003 hosting the Emmys, spoke on Wednesday afternoon and then on Sunday again. Lopez told O'Brien that TBS would be a great venue for him to his comedy without interference from studios or affiliates.

"It was very important to Conan that he felt that he wasn’t doing to me what was done to him, and I said. 'Absolutely not. I’m not that type of person, and I completely welcome you and hope that we would do things together to promote each other’s show,' " Lopez said. "That’s something that doesn’t exist now — an integrated [effort], two guys that get along that have different approaches to comedy that are with the same network that want to do things together. If you look at, without naming hosts, there’s one guy that’s an island to himself, who has alienated everyone that he’s ever really contacted. That’s not me."

Moving his show to midnight doesn't concern Lopez because he's seen David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel succeed at that hour or later.

"Conan's a great lead-in," Lopez said. "He has a supportive following, and I believe that our two shows together are much more powerful than myself alone. Let's say Conan did go to Fox. I would be up against Conan, stretching it out even further. So now I have him in my corner.

"We've always had a relationship. When I used to do his show, we used to speak before his show very honestly and very candidly, and those conversations meant a lot to him. And they mean a lot to me because we’re getting into something that will only succeed if we are bonded together, doing our individual shows, but also have a friendship. Together, we are a force that has something to prove. When there’s risk, that's always great, and we want the shows to be good, which is even better."

-- Maria Elena Fernandez (follow me on Twitter @writerchica)

Video: Monday's episode of "Lopez Tonight." Credit: TBS

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