Despite regular editions of Conan‘s “Clueless Gamer” segment and occasional trips abroad, late night host Conan O’Brien isn’t competing all that well in the current market for eyeballs. During late cable programming’s final push before the holiday break, his nightly TBS series lost viewers in the coveted 18-49 demographic while Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah made gains. What’s more, fellow TBS late night comedy host (and Wednesday lead-in) Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has moved past the talk show veteran and caught up with The Daily Show.
Even so, TBS has remained publicly happy with O’Brien’s program. The network even went so far as to renew Conan through 2018 back in 2014, when the host signed a new contract with the network to stay on as its leading late night figure. Yet Bee’s popularity and the cable channel’s renewed focus on scripted comedy programming may have altered some plans. At least that’s according to Turner Chairman and CEO John Martin who reportedly told The Wrap at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Conan would be transformed from a nightly into a weekly broadcast.
When The Wrap‘s story went to publication, neither Conaco nor TBS had anything to say about the matter. Turner, meanwhile, didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. Yet a followup with Turner by Uproxx‘s Dan Seitz revealed “nothing has been decided at this point” about the future of Conan, and whether or not said future included nightly or weekly programming. All of this begs the question whether or not shifting to the increasingly popular weekly format would make sense for O’Brien and his team.
There’s Just Too Much To Choose From
The undeniable success of Full Frontal suggests it would, as its current iteration airs once a week instead of four or five nights straight like its broadcast and cable competitors. That Full Frontal does this isn’t the series’ only reason for success, of course. Bee’s explosive personality and her biting critiques of Donald Trump (and others) throughout the 2016 election are what propelled her past TBS’ flagship show. However, the infrequency with which viewers are treated to new episodes — be they its original Monday airings, the election season’s dual Monday and Wednesday broadcasts, or current Wednesday time slot — were also an undeniable factor.
Why? Because late night audiences attuned to cable have many nightly shows to choose from — including The Daily Show and @midnight on Comedy Central, and Watch What Happens Live on Bravo. And if those aren’t enough, they can always turn back to broadcast offerings like The Tonight Show, The Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and many others. Comedy and talk show programming typically reserved for hours before audiences go to bed are just as susceptible to so-called “Peak TV” as scripted television is, giving viewers plenty to choose from while forcing individual series to retain eyeballs.
Viewers Need The Extra Time To Catch Up
Some, like Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver, have perfected the art of the weekly late night program in recent years. Along with Bee’s freshman Full Frontal, Oliver’s HBO show became one of the year’s most relevant topical series. Last Week Tonight achieved this benchmark with regularly hilarious, but poignant clips (like his infamous “Donald Drumpf” riff) that, aside from providing great late night television, also capitalized on modern viewers’ penchant for catching up on their favorite shows the day (or week) after. YouTube and social media videos are a large part of this equation, but so is Last Week Tonight‘s infrequency. If fans didn’t have a week to review what they’d missed, they would probably give up and look elsewhere.
Then again, there’s no guarantee retooling Conan into a weekly talk show would improve O’Brien’s popularity. Simply trying to copy the success of others (e.g. Warner Bros./DC Comics’ continued attempts to mimic Marvel Studios) isn’t a strategy, but an excuse. So hopefully, whenever Conaco, TBS and Turner settle on a plan for Conan‘s future, the creative parties involved will make a decision based on the program’s own strengths. Most competitors still perform monologues and interview guests at a desk, but perhaps Conan can use this as an opportunity to emphasize its inventive side. These tend to attract the most attention, and if concentrated into a single night of television once a week, it just might work.
UPDATE: In a statement to the New York Times‘ Dave Itzkoff, TBS President Kevin Reilly said they had “no plans to change the format or frequency” of Conan. However, Reilly didn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that such a discussion ever took place.
(Via The Wrap)