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The TV Column: Coco debut tops rivals, but don't get too excited

After taking an exit deal worth an estimated $45M from NBC, former 'Tonight Show' host Conan O'Brien is set to debut a new late-night talk show on TBS on November 8.

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By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

About 4.2 million people watched Conan O'Brien's debut Monday, which featured a much-tweeted opening taped bit in which the unemployed Conan is saved from ending it all by guardian angel Larry King; an interview with Seth Rogen in which he told a "charming" story about proposing to his live-in girlfriend; and an interview with Lea Michele of "Glee" that went like this:

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"Me, me, me, I, me, me, me."

Conan handily beat his late-night talk show competition, TBS reports Tuesday.

NBC's "The Tonight Show" -- the gig Conan left when that network wanted to move him to just after midnight to make room for a new Jay Leno late-night show -- snagged an average of 3.5 million viewers Monday night, and David Letterman's CBS late-night show clocked 3.4 million. Over at Comedy Central, Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" averaged 1.3 million people and "The Colbert Report" about 1 million.

TBS noted that nearly 2.5 million of Conan's first-night crowd fell into the 18- to 34-year-old bracket. This is important because this age group is, to Madison Avenue advertising execs, as coveted as brunettes apparently are to Charlie Sheen -- and TBS is a good old basic cable network, which is to say, supported by ad dollars.

Meanwhile, having Conan for a lead-in appears to have goosed George Lopez ratings-wise, at least on Day One, despite the one-hour time shift. "Lopez Tonight" averaged nearly 1.4 million viewers Monday -- 571,000 of them ages 18 to 34. Since the start of the official 2010-11 TV season in mid-September, Lopez, at 11 p.m., had been averaging 784,000 viewers -- 264,000 of whom are 18 to 34.

So one night in, the launch of "Conan" is going well. But let's not get too excited -- when he debuted as host of "The Tonight Show," his audience plunged 50 percent in a week -- in part because so many curious people who don't regularly watch late-night TV checked it out the first night.

With all the hoopla about Conan leaving NBC, being canonized by his fans, going on tour and being hired at TBS, he's sure to get a lot of samplers his first week on TBS. The real test will be how his show is doing in the ratings a few months from now.

Greetings from exile

In preparation for his return after a two-day suspension, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann issued a statement saying he had "mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule -- which I previously knew nothing about -- that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC."

In his statement, Olbermann said that "after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media."

According to Olbermann's statement, when a Web site contacted NBC about one of the donations, he volunteered that there had been three of them, "and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired."

One day earlier, MSNBC President Phil Griffin had announced to the news media that "after several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night's program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy."

Meanwhile, a clearly chastened Olbermann had tweeted: "Greetings from Exile! A quick, overwhelmed, stunned THANK YOU for support that feels like a global hug & obviously left me tweetless XO."

And so ends -- we think -- the riveting suspension of Olbermann after being punished by MSNBC last week when news broke that he'd contributed about $7,000 to three Democratic candidates in October.


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