And the winner of the Conan O'Brien bidding war is ... TBS!
So Conan O'Brien isn't going to Fox after all. According to a breaking story from my colleague Joe Flint, the embattled former host of NBC's "Tonight Show" is heading to TBS, the basic cable channel that will make room for O'Brien's new 11 p.m. comedy show by moving George Lopez's show, which now occupies that slot, to midnight.
I would never say TOLDJA!, since that's some other breathless blogger's favorite catchphrase, but I have to admit that the O'Brien move is completely in line with what I was advocating back in January when Conan-mania was at its height. As I wrote back then:
"It's no secret that Conan's audience is at least a decade younger than Leno or Letterman's audience. We also know that the younger the TV viewer, the more likely they are to be watching cable TV, not the cobwebby programming available on network TV. So if I were Conan ... I'd be focusing on cable.... The money wouldn't be the same, but I think it would be a liberating, low-pressure experience for O'Brien, who looks like he could use a break from the high-stakes ratings death match of network late-night TV. Instead of being told to tone down his act and pretend to be an old fogy, as NBC was asking him to do on "The Tonight Show," he could cut loose and get back to his roots, when he was was the most inventive, loose-limbed funnyman on TV. It's time to let Conan be Conan again."
My idea was to have O'Brien make a deal with Comedy Central, where he could open for or follow the network's powerhouse double bill of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But putting him in a late-night tandem with George Lopez on TBS isn't such a bad way to go, especially since TBS has a wide variety of sports programming that it can use for promos and tie-ins to attract male viewers from nearly every demographic group imaginable. That includes me, so I can't wait to see what Conan's new network can do to make him a household name again.