After an abrupt fairwell to his longtime home at NBC, followed by a year off from TV, Conan O’Brien is coming to cable.
In 2009, many of us laughed along with Conan O’Brien as he took the reigns of “The Tonight Show,” bringing his own unique brand of comedy to NBC’s flagship late night series. O’Brien was the latest in a line of comedians who’d hosted the variety juggernaut that included Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, and Jay Leno.
NBC was not truly ready to say goodbye to O’Brien’s predecessor, Leno, when in the summer of ’09 he stepped down from the prestigious seat and handed the keys over to Conan. Execs at the National Broadcasting Company decided to keep Leno on, giving him a new timeslot at 10pm every weeknight. This bumped costly-to-produce dramas like ER and Law and Order in favor of Leno’s comedy and variety stylings which would now air before the eleven o’clock news, which would, in turn, lead directly into O’Brien’s new “Tonight Show.”
Leno never seemed thrilled about the switch, but promised things would go smoothly.
When his “Jay Leno Show” tanked in the 10pm ratings, it dragged the 11 o’clock news, and some believe, “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” down with it. The executives at NBC then hatched a new plan: Put Jay on after the news, and cut him down to half an hour. Then move “The Tonight Show,” which had traditionally aired at 11:35pm, up half an hour to 12:05 and let it run until 1:00 in the morning.
Neither host was happy about this new switch, but O’Brien was the most vocal, issuing a statement that famously began “People of earth.” The statement went on in a much more serious vain: “Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move The Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35.” O’Brien’s statement said, “For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.” He went on to say that he would not follow Jay Leno in a 12:05 timeslot.
Both shows were taking jabs at each other as 2010 approached, with even David Letterman, of CBS, and Jimmy Kimmel, of ABC getting involved. Internet groups formed in support of their favorite hosts in the new Late Night War, and rallies for O’Brien were held, including one outside The Tonight Show’s Universal Studios Lot. Conan O’Brien’s new nickname, CoCo (given to him by actor Tom Hanks when he took over The Tonight Show) became a mantra for some.
It was a beautiful display of fan fervor. In the end though, O’Brien’s consistent unwillingness to budge led NBC and Conan to part ways. “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” aired its final episode on January 20, 2010, just seven short months after it started. It was a dark night for Conan O’Brien’s fans, many of whom had enjoyed his unique brand of comedy and variety since he began his on-air relationship with NBC by taking over “Late Night” from David Letterman back in 1993.
Soon, their nights might seem a little bit brighter.
On November 8, “Conan” will premiere on TBS. The cable network has been slowly building a late night roster with reruns of Family Guy and George Lopez’s “Lopez Tonight.” They seem to feel that Conan O’Brien will provide the icing on the cake.
He just might at that, considering how rabid and loyal his fanbase turned out to be during his tiff with NBC.
For an early dose of CoCo, check out the official Team CoCo site or their YouTube Channel.
“Conan” will run on weeknights at 11pm Eastern Time on TBS.