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Will basic cable mean lesser guests for Conan O'Brien?*

April 16, 2010 |  8:52 am

Conan O'Brien is headed to basic cable. Will Hollywood's biggest stars follow?

For almost every talk show host, A-list guests set a program apart from its competition. Land the exclusive couch visit from George Clooney, and expect a flood of TV watchers to follow. Rivalries among the current crop of chatterers can be crazily competitive: If you want your biggest clients to grab an invitation from Oprah Winfrey, you better not book them on any other talk show first.

2 While hosting "The Tonight Show," O'Brien didn't always draw strong ratings among TV's insomniacs, but he did collect a steady stream of pop culture luminaries, particularly among music acts and up-and-coming actors. With O'Brien (who lost his NBC gig in January when the network returned prime-time washout Jay Leno to his former late-night slot) moving from a big network to cable television's TBS, his viewership could slip dramatically, even with TBS pledging to promote O'Brien's November launch aggressively.

This year, TBS is No. 7 among cable networks, averaging 1.7 million prime-time viewers, according to Nielsen Co. figures.

NBC, on the other hand, may be No. 3 among the major networks, but it still has an audience that's more than three times larger. [Update: A previous version of this post said NBC was last among major networks.]

3Studio marketing executives say O'Brien won't necessarily enjoy the same priority as he did on "The Tonight Show" and his previous talk show, "Late Night," but he could still be a key destination for younger, hipper performers. Russell Brand, yes. Russell Crowe, no.

One executive says that if "The Tonight Show" suffered from poor lead-ins from NBC's anemic prime-time lineup, the situation will be even more dire at TBS, larded with reruns of shows such as "Seinfeld," "Family Guy" and "The Office." Did anyone even know that TBS already had a late-night talk show hosted by comedian George Lopez?

But another marketing guru says that if O'Brien's new show is good and the ratings are good, talent will follow. The best comparison, some say: Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," whose Jon Stewart welcomes a pretty impressive crop of cultural and political names. Let the booking begin.

-- John Horn

Photos: (from top) Conan O'Brien. Credit: Paul Drinkwater / NBC Universal

Russell Brand. Credit: Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times

Russell Crowe. Credit: Rick Rycroft / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (8)

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What a crying shame if Conan gets lost in cable TV. He's second to Johnny Carson in natural humor. But maybe his philosophy is correct, that if you keep doing the right thing, only good things will happen to you. I hope his first guest WILL be George Clooney, and all the big ones follow suit.

Conan has a unique kind of comedy. His interaction with the audience and impressions makes him my favorite late night host. Unlike other hosts, he doesn't "stick to the script" and does new exciting things in his monologues pretty much every show. I hope his show will do well on TBS and I will definately be a loyal viewer to his new show. Good luck, Conan!

As one of the few people who stayed up long enough to watch Carson Daly, he got pretty good guests for a show airing at 1:35am, yeah that's right, 1:35 am.

Conan will be fine.

Never found him to be funny regardless of what Network he is on. Would not watch on NBC so no TBS either.

I think it's unlikely Conan is going to have problems booking guests.

Conan is a pathetic excuse for a comedian. He shovels mindless garbage upon viewers as if it were actual comedy. He was a disaster at 11:35 pm on NBC, a company from which he practically ripped off $40 million. I have no idea why the media are still following his show-biz moves. Only his band of slightly deranged Conan-bots, who make up a sliver of the US population, will watch him on TBS.

Apparently George Lopez draws an audience with an average age of 33--an advertiser's dream. How many 18-29 year olds know or care about George Clooney, Russell Crowe, etc. Conan can now show more of his edgier side and book newer, younger guests and indie bands.

He'll be just fine, even up against Jon Stewart and Colbert.

Arthur has it right. The drones who buzz on and on about Conan ignore a simple fact: he's not funny. I give him props for manipulating the media beautifully and creating a social phenomenon with his Conan-bots, but at the end of the day you have to produce in this world. Conan has never done the job for which he has been well, well paid -- create a funny, engaging talk show. Some great bits, sure (love Triumph!), but basically unwatchable. On TBS he'll be niche programming, which is what he has always been. Incredible hubris by Conan to think he deserved everyone to bow and scrape to him, and incredible mistake by NBC to buy the hype he produced.


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