Conan O’Brien has been deservedly praised for his willingness to flee his studio in search of culture-rich experiences in foreign lands as well as his ability to keep Conan flowing without always needing to draw fuel from all things Trump. But despite those departures from the late-night norm, his show’s structure (an hour of comedy consisting of a monologue, some desk bits, a couple of interviews and a comic or a musical guest) has been remarkably in line with the rest of the block. And so it will remain until 2019 when Conan switches from an hour-long format to a half hour one.
Don’t look at the shift as bad news or some kind of demotion. Less can be more and O’Brien is certainly singing a happy tune in a statement that accompanied the news.
“A half-hour show will give me the time to do a higher percentage of the comedy in, and out, of the studio that I love and that seems to resonate in this new digital world.”
OK, so what does that mean? Descriptions of the new Conan make it seem like things are just going to be shrunk down to accommodate the time change. There will still be guests and interviews and content like Clueless Gamer or O’Brien’s adventures out in the real world will continue, since they’re proven to be creatively rich and hold high appeal with the Conan audience (which is the youngest in late-night), specifically online where Conan content has generated 3.4 billion views.
Those kinds of sketches are likely going to become more common now thanks to the production deal between TBS (or, Turner) and O’Brien’s production company, Conaco. According to THR, the new deal will expand the sprawl of that relationship, allowing the company the chance to produce more content for the web with mention of touring and relationships with stand-up comics, including a kick-off comedy tour later this year.
While O’Brien joked that the deeper commitment to creating digital content would deepen “the experience for his young fans” and confuse his older ones, those late-night oldheads are getting something out of this deal as well. TBS, Conaco, and NBC are teaming to put up content from the span of O’Brien’s 25 years in late-night to celebrate that anniversary, a repeat of the move made five years ago to celebrate the 20th anniversary that stood out as something of a gold mine for late-night history junkies who are a bit chafed by the need to endure garbage YouTube streams like table scraps (and maybe I’m making this a little personal).
Will all of this mean that there will be more instances where the show (made more nimble by the format change) goes on the road to festivals and other interesting places as well? Will an influx of sketches lead to a greater reliance on up and coming talents that might recall O’Brien’s brief and fruitful relationship with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade gang in the ’90s on Late Night? These things seem like possibilities from the outside looking in at this early stage.
For TBS, the decision makes a lot of sense. You’re expanding the reach of your biggest star, allowing him more flexibility, and opening up some late night real estate to maybe find a new voice who can zig where O’Brien’s show zags. Maybe that means a more issue-oriented comedy show or maybe it means something else entirely. Options abound when traditions get put on the shelf.