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Despite news reports claiming that the Turner-owned cable network planned to shift Conan O’Brien’s daily late-night show to a weekly format, TBS executives stress that there are no plans to do so at this time.
“Conan remains an invaluable franchise, partner and producer for our TBS brand and we’ll be in business with him for a long time,” TBS president Kevin Reilly said Thursday in a statement. “As the media landscape continues to evolve, Conan will continue to lead the evolution of what a talk show will be in the digital age. At this time, we have no plans to change the format or frequency of his popular TBS show. In addition to Conan’s daily responsibilities to his talk show, we continue to have very ambitious plans that will further broaden and evolve our relationship with Conan.”
In an interview Thursday with The Hollywood Reporter, Reilly said there have been ongoing discussions about evolving Conan since the executive arrived at the Turner networks a few years ago. More recently, Conan has found success with shows from the road and outside of his traditional Burbank studio. O’Brien recently took the show to Cuba, Berlin and South Korea, with those episodes scoring a ratings bump.
Below, Reilly talks with THR about the future of Conan, which averages slightly more than 500,000 total viewers, and depending on the week, between a 0.2 and a 0.3 rating among adults 18-49.
What’s going on with Conan — is it shifting to once a week?
No, but it will shift. He has been doing a lot of different things in the last year. These videos he’s been doing have gone to 20 million to 30 million-plus and have gone viral. He’s done branded advertising that has also had the same kind of virality. He’s traveled the world with four specials a year, which we’re going to continue to do next year. In addition to producing People of Earth for us, which we renewed for next season and has been a hit for TBS, we also announced a new animated show, called Final Space, that will be in production next year. In addition, he’s also been the face of Comic-Con, and that’s had a real success and viral breakouts as part of it. All of this is saying that he’s beginning to evolve what his brand is and what it could mean as a talk show in the digital age. So we’ve been talking about formalizing all of this and taking it to the next step. He came to me a couple of months ago, and said let’s talk about how he can balance that with the rigors of a daily talk show. I think it may very well change, but he hasn’t really got his hands around what it will be. It’s going to be up to him. I’m not forcing him to do anything. We have a deal with Conan through 2018, and you can anticipate it will be renewed beyond that; we’re going to be in business with him for a long time. Television is going to continue to be a huge part of his presence, but you can also anticipate a series of announcements between now and the upfronts [in May] that will shed even more light on what we’re talking about.
We’re going into production next month on a new series, Clueless Gamer, based on the viral video he’s done where he essentially makes fun of video games, gets celebrities to play and makes commentary on them. We’ve gotten to the point where video game companies are sending us their new product for us to play and make fun of because it’s been such a huge success. We’re going to go into production on a series of that.
All of this is going to lead to more activity for him, not less. And how we balance that with whatever form the talk show takes is a point of discussion. That’s at the root of all of this. It’s what [Turner CEO] John [Martin] was eluding to, but I’m not sure whether he spoke or was misunderstood — it’s all premature on exactly what form that is going to take.
So for now, Conan is —
Business as usual.
So going weekly is indeed a possibility for Conan?
It’s a distinct possibility that the show may evolve, but that’s going to come from Conan as more of these things take shape. Between now and May, quite a few of them will be taking shape.
How else are you looking at reinvigorating Conan?
That’s part of the question: You look at the vibrancy of Conan right now. I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the viral videos that he’s done but if you search a few online, they’re really funny. In the on-demand world we’re in in television in general, the nightly talk show — in terms of a habit with an audience — is evolving like everything else. Yet at the same token, you have 30 million people watching these videos of his. He has the youngest audience profile of any talk show host on TV. He has maintained this incredible relationship with a very young audience and that’s something really interesting. Both of us are intellectually stimulated by the idea of how these different things we’re doing work in concert together to become what a personality who has a regular relationship is. He’s going to continue to have a daily relationship with an audience. I don’t know whether that will be on a number of different services, including TBS. That’s the part we’re trying to figure out — how does that all work together? The media landscape is changing and a guy who can toggle in back and forth between a number of different platforms — how does that all work together and how does that become formalized? That’s what we’re working on. I’m very excited about it.
How might the changes to Conan fit in with your overall plan for TBS (and TNT)?
We are working on branching out, and I’m sitting right now at the E-League presentation at CES and things like e-sports are an expression of where we’re going with our business. We have a vibrant linear channel, but we have other businesses that are related and ancillary to that main core channel. It’s where I’m taking the business in general. And Conan, as one of our key brand beacons, will be out in front of that. That’s what I want. I want him out in front of that.
If the format of the show were up to you, what would Conan look like a year from now?
I honestly have no idea. It’s going to come from him because he knows what he’s doing. I would say I’m going to support whatever form and decision that takes. I will tell you that the volume, if we were to cut it back, that would be because of the volume of other things we’re in is even more demanding and the sum total of that activity, we think, would be offsetting. But that’s got to evolve as we commit to these other things. That’s why we’re staying the course.
Samantha Bee has found great success in the weekly format. Is there a conversation where her show could expand to nightly should Conan downsize the show?
Sam has no interest in doing a nightly show. I said to her that we wanted her desperately and asked her what she wanted to do. She could do anything. She wanted one night a week and a half-hour. Would I like more of her? Yes. But I am also in active discussions with Sam to say, “How do we also take your connection with the audience and keep it more than once a week?” I don’t know that that’s more on television, but what other expressions will that take? We’re looking to say that when you establish a personality and have a successful television show, how does that continue and how does that also evolve into different connections with the audience? And what does that look like, business-wise? We’re very focused on that and will talk more about that as we go.
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