As the shock over Conan O'Brien's jump to the TBS late-night lineup begins to wear off, details about how the surprise deal came together have begun to emerge.
O'Brien's manager, Gavin Polone, speaking with the The New York Times, said TBS contacted Conan's camp about 10 days ago, laying out a plan to give the displaced "Tonight Show" host his own 11 p.m. program.
But TBS already had its own 11 p.m. show, the George Lopez-hosted "Lopez Tonight." The situation seemed to be mirroring the one that forced O'Brien out of NBC, when Peacock execs asked O'Brien to shift back his timeslot to accommodate a new Jay Leno half-hour show. While Turner Entertainment president, Steve Koonin, assured them that Lopez was onboard with the programming shift, O'Brien was still wary.
"That sounded very similar to [NBC's] Jeff Gaspin coming to Conan and asking him to move back to midnight to make room for Jay," Polone said, adding, "Conan said, 'We're not putting ourselves in the position of shoving somebody out of his show.' "
Talks stalled there, until Lopez personally called O'Brien to "sell Conan on this idea."
"It really was George who made this happen," Polone said.
With Lopez's blessing, negotiations progressed quickly, even as it was widely assumed that Conan's team was deep into talks with Fox to launch a new talk show on the channel. The Fox talks, however, reportedly stalled over concerns from affiliates about syndication deals, as well as the fact that O'Brien's show would only be on about 60 percent of Fox channels for several years. The TBS show will immediately be available in almost every market in the country. Polone declined to specify how and why the Fox negotiations collapsed.
During talks, TBS played up its youth-heavy viewership and the natural lead-in of shows like "Family Guy" and "The Office." "Lopez" is said to have the youngest audience of any late-night show, with a median age of 33. TBS and Polone hammered out complex deals quickly, leading up to Monday's (April 12) announcement.
Polone said TBS declared its intention to stage "the biggest promotional campaign in television history" for the start of O'Brien's show, using the NBA and Major League Baseball playoffs as part of the plan.
Continuing to produce his show from Los Angeles, O'Brien will now face off in the 11 p.m. slot against "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "Chelsea Lately," among others.
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