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

November 8, 2010 | 12:38 pm

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