Conan O’Brien, remember him? He has a cable talk show on TBS, remember? Well, you’re not alone if you forgot all about that show. It seems like a lot of folks have as well. During June, CONAN fell to fourth place place among the cable TV talk show also-rans, coming up just behind Chelsea Handler’s CHELSEA LATELY. CHELSEA LATELY drew 808,000 average viewers vs. CONAN’s lowly 743,000 viewers. Even worse, O’Brien is even losing the coveted 18-49 age bracket that advertisers love to CHELSEA LATELY by a 503,000-559,000 margin. THE DAILY SHOW with Jon Stewart and THE COLBERT REPORT top the cable TV talk show ratings race, leaving CONAN looking like the very last runner in a race.
Yet, despite all his ratings woes, Conan O’Brien still commands a fairly decent sized loyal fan base and critics gave high praise to CONAN O”BRIEN CAN’T STOP, a very good documentary film from Rodman Flender, which documented the months in which the comic wasn’t able to legally perform on TV due to his NBC exit contract.
Going to cable TV was widely viewed as being a major mistake by many critics for Conan O’Brien as NBC sought to correct their mistake when they moved Conan O’Brien into the 11:30 TONIGHT SHOW slot where the show became a quick ratings failure. NBC had also hoped to cut TV production costs by creating a cheaply produced 10pm prime time show for Jay Leno, which certainly cost considerably less to produce than a decent TV program like a LAW & ORDER or ER would have cost. But, audiences quickly rejected that prime time version of a Jay Leno talk show. When NBC proposed moving Leno back into the 11:30 slot, and moving the TONIGHT SHOW with Conan O’Brien after midnight, O’Brien was upset and sought to leave NBC. Former SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon took over Conan O’Brien’s old 12:30 show and has made it into a decent hit with strong ratings that run neck and neck with THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON. Both of these guys have proven to be great talents, as both created excellent shows for as late as they appear on TV. Both entertainers and their shows are much better than their late night time slots would suggest. Either could easily handle the call to do a show at at 11:30 if the call comes someday. Jimmy Fallon probably ended up the biggest winner of the NBC shakeup disaster with Conan O’Brien ultimately the biggest loser, largely due to his inability to maintain strong enough TONIGHT SHOW ratings for a variety of reasons and his decision to leave network TV for lowly rated cable TV.
So where does this all leave Conan O’Brien? Maybe, do his cable TV show for a few more seasons until his contract runs out at TBS,, then call it quits to produce TV shows. Hopefully, much better than the ill-fated OUTLAW, though. Conan O’Brien remains a very talented writer and entertainer, but not always the best career manager.
While CONAN is certainly entertaining, the fact is that fewer and fewer people are even bothering to watch. Compared to building an audience of new viewers, that’s a very troubling trend. But, if that trend is good enough for TBS or for Conan O’Brien to accept, then it can go on for a while until it just doesn’t make good economic sense to continue.