“Conan” currently airs on TBS four nights a week. While at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Turner chief executive John Martin told TheWrap that TBS “is planning to retool” the show to a weekly series, though there’s no word on when it will change. His reasoning was that there’s too much competition in late-night TV, and that while O’Brien is “holding his own” among the many hosts, airing only once a week could benefit the show.
Later on Thursday, Reilly and “Conan” executive producer Jeff Ross both reiterated that there will be no changes for a while — and O’Brien isn’t going anywhere.
Reilly echoed similar thoughts to the Hollywood Reporter, and emphasized how important O’Brien is for the network, given that he also executive produces shows for TBS and has become “the face of Comic Con.” He also mentioned O’Brien’s huge online audience with viral videos.
“That’s the part we’re trying to figure out; how does that all work together?” Reilly said. “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?”
Thanks to the glut of late-night shows on broadcast and cable, it has become increasingly difficult for hosts to break through. “What does it mean that there are literally more talk-show hosts than active jurors in America right now?” O’Brien joked to The Washington Post in an interview last year. As a result, O’Brien doubled down on the unique aspects of his show, such as remote bits and traveling around the world for special episodes (something that Martin told TheWrap is O’Brien’s sweet spot).
While the weekly format does help certain late-night shows (HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver, TBS’s own acclaimed “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”), it would be a first for O’Brien. A former “Simpsons” writer, he was a surprise choice to take over NBC’s “Late Night With David Letterman” in 1991 when Letterman went to CBS. O’Brien has been one of the most prolific names in late-night TV ever since. He had his brief stint as host of “The Tonight Show” in 2009 before that famously ended in controversial fashion with Jay Leno returning to the program. Then it was on to TBS in November 2010, where he has become the longest-reigning host in late-night.
O’Brien — whose contract with TBS expires in late 2018 — has made headlines in recent years for his viral videos, such as one in which Ice Cube and Kevin Hart taught his staffer how to drive, as well as his episodes from places around the world, including Cuba, Armenia and Berlin. In the early part of last year, as O’Brien averaged about 734,000 viewers a night (as compared with shows like “The Daily Show” with 1.4 million viewers and the highest-rated, “The Tonight Show,” with 3.6 million), network executives looked for ways to capitalize on O’Brien’s many online viewers.
“When Conan goes out of the country, people quote bits of his — clearly they have not watched at 11 on TBS,” network President Kevin Reilly told the Post. “We don’t know if, ultimately, a show evolves more of that and less of a formatted talk show.”
(This post has been updated.)