Conan is a late-night talk show airing each Monday through Thursday at 11:00 p.m. eastern time on TBS in the United States. The hour-long show premiered on November 8, 2010, and is hosted by writer, comedian and performer Conan O'Brien, accompanied by his long-time "sidekick" Andy Richter. Describing itself as a traditional late-night talk show, Conan draws its comedy from recent news stories, political figures and prominent celebrities, as well as aspects of the show itself.
On May 17, 2017, TBS renewed the show through 2022.
Conan follows the established six-piece late night format popularized by the likes of Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and David Letterman, and previously executed during O'Brien's tenures as host of NBC's The Tonight Show and Late Night. Each episode of Conan is 60 minutes in length, including commercials, and typically consists of:
Guests come from a wide range of cultural sources, and include actors, musicians, authors, athletes and political figures.
The show opens with Richter proclaiming "Coming to you from Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, it's Conan!", and introducing O'Brien, The Basic Cable Band, as well as the episode's guests. For the first several seasons, each episode had a title, which Richter would announce at the end of the opening sequence. The titles were in the style of old fashioned murder-mystery radio shows, television sitcoms, or other assorted jokes. The episode titles were dropped in early 2014.
The original title sequence was designed by Rob Ashe, Dan Dome and Eric McGilloway. There were several different variations of the opening credits, with the final product being inspired by graphic designer Saul Bass. The opening design process was described by Ashe as utilizing "organic-looking textures made of construction paper, soak them in soda, and light them in Photoshop."
O'Brien opens each episode with a monologue drawing from current news stories and issues. The monologue is sometimes accompanied by clips and brief comedy skits, in addition to occasional interactions between O'Brien and Richter, and the audience.
One or more comedy bits follow the monologue. Following the monologue, some comedy bits (such as those based on video clips) are presented from the monologue stage. Following the first commercial break, additional comedy sketches are typically presented from the desk area. Some sketches are original and appear only once. Occasionally an additional sketch will air between the first and second guest.
O'Brien has filmed several specials abroad. These episodes do not follow the traditional format and are not filmed before an audience.
Following the 2010 Tonight Show conflict, O'Brien announced on the first day of The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour that he had signed a deal with cable network TBS to host a talk show on their late-night lineup, beginning in November 2010. Before the deal was announced, O'Brien initially had reservations about the move, as it would place comedian George Lopez's show, Lopez Tonight, one hour later to midnight, effectively doing to Lopez what NBC had wanted to do with O'Brien. However, Lopez reportedly called O'Brien and expressed his excitement about the move. Lopez went on to state, "I can't think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in [...] It's the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy." In an official press release by Turner Broadcasting, it stated that O'Brien had only begun negotiations a week prior to the official announcement of the show. Steve Koonin, President of Turner Entertainment Networks, went on to comment of the announcement, "Conan has been the comedic voice for a generation. TBS already has a huge audience of young comedy lovers, and Conan's show will give these fans even more reasons to watch our network."
In his own statement about the deal, O'Brien stated, "In three months I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I'm headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly." O'Brien's production company, Conaco, reportedly owns all rights to the show. In addition to the announcement of the television series, TBS also announced a one-hour TBS Special, featuring several writers for Conan, as well as comedian Reggie Watts, who participated in O'Brien's Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. The show was broadcast on June 27, 2010, leading up to the beginning of Conan in early-November. Additionally, in preparation for the show, a 24-hour "Live-Coco Cam" was set up on October 20, 2010, and featured various characters and staff members of Conan, including Richie Rosenberg, otherwise known as "LaBamba," as well as a short online broadcast from O'Brien's office entitled "Show Zero" on November 1, 2010. The show featured O'Brien as host, and was accompanied by Andy Richter, as well as Jerry Vivino, a member of the Basic Cable Band. The broadcast hosted several guests, including actor Jim Parsons and indie rock band Steel Train, and lasted a total of four minutes, and 51 seconds.
Weeks before the premiere, an orange Conan blimp was introduced to further promote the show. Designed by Blue Sky, an Atlanta firm, the dirigible provided aerial footage for 2010 Major League Baseball postseason games airing on TBS. It has since been incorporated into sketches on Conan, including a running gag where the blimp would follow actor Gary Busey around southern California, much to his chagrin.
The first episode of Conan, entitled "Baa Baa Blackmail", premiered on Monday, November 8, 2010 at 11 p.m. EST on TBS. The episode's first guest was Arlene Wagner, the curator of Leavenworth, Washington's Nutcracker Museum. Wagner's position as Conan's debut guest was chosen by fans through a "rigged" poll at Conan O'Brien's official website, TeamCoco.com. The poll also consisted of Pope Benedict XVI, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, performers Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, and actor Jack Nicholson, among others. Wagner's brief appearance was followed by actor and comedian Seth Rogen and actress Lea Michele, along with musical guest Jack White, who performed "Twenty Flight Rock", along with O'Brien himself. Actor Jon Hamm, appearing as his character Don Draper from the AMC series Mad Men, and talk show host Larry King, of CNN's Larry King Live, made cameo appearances in the show's cold open, with actor and comedian Ricky Gervais sending Conan a pre-taped message expressing his well wishes on the new series, then going on to express condolences for future job losses.
Reviews of the premiere episode by television critics were positive, calling it "a looser, quirkier take on a late-night talk show, but still a late-night talk show." James Poniewozik of Time found the episode to be enjoyable, and compared it to O'Brien's tenure during Late Night. Itzkoff went on to state, "The message, overall [...] is that Conan the show is not so much about a reinvention of the talk show form as a restoration of Conan. He was doing something he wanted to do, a late-night talk show, and NBC made him stop doing it." He also praised the opening monologue, and Conan's performance with Jack White during the episode's conclusion. Frazier Moore of the Associated Press went on to call the episode "a stylishly back-to-basics hour that radiated hard-won lessons from his brief stay hosting The Tonight Show," in addition to admiring O'Brien's "appealingly stoked yet comfortable" appearance on the show. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly also appreciated the Masturbating Bear cameo, and went on to call the show "pleasant, if a bit underwhelming." Less positive assessments of the show included Tom Gliatto of People, who accused the show of being a "modest, lowkey and slightly awkward affair."
In overnight Nielsen Ratings, the series premiere of Conan drew 4,100,000 viewers, leading all late-night talk shows, more than tripling the audience of its direct competition, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. In the 18–49 demographic, Conan drew a 2.5 rating and 3,285,000 viewers. It was also watched by 2,451,000 adults in the 18-34 demographic. Ratings throughout the rest of the week fell, and ended with over 2.02 million viewers on Thursday, November 11, 2010. The fourth episode still led every talk show in the 18–34 and 18–49 demographics, however, delivering 980,000 adults and 1,361,000 adults respectively. The median viewer age for the first week of shows was projected to be at 32, significantly younger than that of The Tonight Show and CBS's Late Show . The show also premiered in Canada, on The Comedy Network at midnight, drawing 171,000 viewers, and the repeat broadcast at 1 AM on CTV drew 302,000 viewers.
During O'Brien's second week, ratings remained somewhat consistent, and peaked on November 16, 2010, with 1.84 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings. The week would go on to average 1.7 million viewers, and earn an average rating of 1.0 in the 18–49 demographic. During the week of December 13–17, 2010, Conan has fallen behind in the weekly overnight Nielsen Ratings, averaging only 1.3 million viewers, compared to NBC's The Tonight Show (4.2 million), CBS's Late Show (3.6 million), ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! (1.6 million), and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1.6 million).
In January 2011, Michael Wright, head of programming of TBS, said the show was "landing right about where we expected it to. At this number, Conan will run as long as he wants it to."
For the month of June 2011, Conan fell for the first time to fourth among U.S. late-night cable talk shows, behind The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Chelsea Handler's Chelsea Lately; Conan attracted an average of 743,000 total viewers, compared with 808,000 viewers for Chelsea Lately. Among viewers 18-to-49, O'Brien averaged 503,000 viewers vs. Handler's 559,000.
Following the cancellation of Lopez Tonight, Steve Koonin of Turner Entertainment stated he "could not be happier with Conan as a show or Conan O'Brien and Team Coco as people and an organization," going on to say that "what Conan has already won is the absolute [embrace] of young people."
In August 2011, TBS secured the cable syndication rights to The Big Bang Theory at a reported $4 million per episode to serve as a lead-in to Conan three nights a week. "[O'Brien's] program is the signature show of our line-up and the centerpiece of our network," Koonin said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
On May 14, 2014, TBS renewed the show through 2018.
For January–October 2013, Conan attracted $67.4 million in advertising for an audience that is the youngest compared with seven late-night shows on CBS, NBC, ABC, Comedy Central, and E!. Viewership in 2013 was 808,000, down from 914,000 in 2012. Conan does well in ratings among low income inner city viewers. As a result, many of the show's advertisers often use Conan as a bridge to reach them.
By fall 2015, in the face of new competition from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Conan's live audience had fallen to 299,000 viewers in the demographic of persons 18 to 49, the lowest of all of the major national late-night talk shows. In contrast to its live audience, Conan boasts strong online revenues with a particularly young viewership that TBS has leveraged into lucrative advertiser relationships targeting digital and social media. TBS has also cited O'Brien's role as Executive Producer on shows such as People of Earth, Final Space and a Clueless Gamer spinoff series as evidence of the host's value to the network as a brand and partner beyond the talk show, further stating "We're going to be in business with him for a long time."
On May 17, 2017, TBS renewed the show through 2022.
On May 16, 2010, it was announced that O'Brien would launch his new show at Stage 15 on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California, the soundstage where films such as Calamity Jane, The Music Man, Blazing Saddles, Ghostbusters and the Ocean's Trilogy were shot.
Taping of each episode begins at 4:30 p.m. PST, which usually follows a rehearsal, lasting from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.
O'Brien has made explicit that the staff has made an effort thus far to not to reuse any of the previous Late Night or Tonight Show sketches although noted this was sometimes difficult and they were unsure if some sketches were going to work. However he stated in the past, such as in an interview with Larry King during his last week on CNN, that he possibly would bring back certain bits in time. Indeed, O'Brien has brought back several skits and characters he and his writers created on NBC, even if used less frequently than in the past. These characters and bits include The Masturbating Bear, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, Celebrity Survey, Clutch Cargo interviews, and an update on the "Late Night" sketch If They Mated called If They Melded.
Prior to the show's airing, interviews with O'Brien and Richter indicated that the show would more closely represent Late Night than Tonight in regard to content and material, meaning that edgier or questionable content excised as a result of the move to the earlier time slot will no longer be an issue at TBS. On the July 12, 2010 episode of Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Andy Richter said that they no longer have to "worry about living up to a respected franchise", and that on The Tonight Show certain sketches "that just felt too 12:30" would be cut and how "it'll be nice to not have to worry about that anymore". During an appearance at the 2010 San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festival, O'Brien told the audience he was "no longer interested in 'broadening' the audience or trying to reach everybody of all ages," further implying the content will not be toned-down. As the show is on cable, fewer restrictions will apply to the show in regards to explicit content, such as swearing and racier material.
On September 1, 2010, O'Brien officially announced via a YouTube video that the new show's title was simply Conan. Conan as the title required the consent of Conan Properties International, the owners of the Conan the Barbarian franchise, including a "Conan" trademark covering certain types of TV series.
Prior to the show's broadcast, it was stated that the set for the show, designed by the same designer of Conan's previous sets, John Shaffner, would be inspired by The Legally Prohibited Tour, adopting more of a "theatre" appearance than the previous shows. Shaffner commented on the choice of the show's chair, stating, "You find one that you like and then you build it yourself to make it a little shallower and a little more upright and the cushion a little firmer [...] But not too firm or every time the guest sits down they’ll say, 'Oooh this is a hard chair.'" The rest of the set has been described as being "filled with warm wood tones and electric blue screens," and has been compared to the set of his most recent stint on The Tonight Show. The new set features several differences, however, including a remote-controlled moon, and the backdrop being transformed into a giant blue ocean. In keeping with a change made during The Tonight Show, Andy Richter joins O'Brien during celebrity interviews on the main set rather than remaining behind a lectern after the monologue.
Conan O'Brien's longtime band, originally known as The Max Weinberg 7, then The Tonight Show Band, and later as the Legally Prohibited Band, serve as the Conan house band, and are fronted by longtime guitarist Jimmy Vivino. The band also consists of Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg on trombone, Scott Healy on keyboard, Mike Merritt on bass guitar, Mark Pender on trumpet and Jerry Vivino on woodwinds. When the group moved to Los Angeles to play for The Tonight Show, they added an eighth member, James Wormworth, on percussion. Max Weinberg, who had served as O'Brien's bandleader and drummer since 1993, does not appear on the new program. Weinberg was not a part of the Legally Prohibited Tour, and remained vague throughout most of 2010 about the possibility of his participation in the new TBS show. Weinberg's decision was influenced by a combination of a major heart surgery he had in February 2010, and the fact that his family never left their native New Jersey, even during the Tonight Show period, both issues that he kept private until an October 2010 interview. Percussionist James Wormworth, who often acted as Weinberg's on-air substitute, serves as the band's permanent drummer.
Following Weinberg's exit, O'Brien sought to revamp the show's title theme song. In an interview with New York Magazine, O'Brien expressed his desire to create a new introduction from the previous Late Night and Tonight compositions, which were used for O'Brien's entire 17-year relationship with NBC, and ultimately unveil a new signature sound for the show. The new theme song was co-written by bandleader Jimmy Vivino, and O'Brien himself. Despite no obvious copyright issues to continue using the previous theme, which was written by Howard Shore and John Lurie, O'Brien stated of the transition to a new composition, "it just felt like the right thing to do [...] There's this feeling of, 'Let's try and build something new.' I came out to that theme for seventeen years and it does feel like, you know what? Let's try some new stuff. Let's try and change it up." However, the closing theme from his previous NBC shows was retained in a slightly altered form.
|2011||63rd Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Series|
|Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety, Music or Comedy Series|
|Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media|
|2012||64th Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media||Won|
|2013||65th Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Interactive Program||Nominated|
|Outstanding Multi-Camera Editing for a Comedy Series|
|2016||68th Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Interactive Program||Nominated|
In Australia, the program was aired on GO!, a multichannel of the Nine Network from August 2012 following the 2012 Olympic Games but eventually dropped by GO! mid-2014.Originally it was intended to screen within 12 hours after its original U.S. broadcast at 11:30pm weeknights,. The Comedy Channel which aired the previous versions of Conan's shows announced it would not air the program as the Nine Network had exclusive rights to Time Warner programs. Between November 2010 to July 2012, Conan was aired on GEM.
In Israel, the program began airing in early 2011 on the newly launched Comedy Central Israel channel. episodes were aired 4–5 days after their original TBS broadcasts. However, the channel has discontinued airing Conan in October 2011.
From November 8, 2010 to August 30, 2013, the program aired in Canada on cable channel The Comedy Network on Monday to Thursday nights (Tuesday to Friday mornings) at midnight ET/PT, with a repeat on broadcast network CTV at 1:07 a.m. local time. The program was only initially announced for CTV, leading to some concern about the unusually late time slot, two hours after its airing in the United States for viewers in the Eastern Time Zone (the program airs on CTV Atlantic at 1:05 a.m. AT / 12:05 a.m. ET). This is due to local and national newscasts in the 11:00 p.m. hour, and CTV's commitments to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at 12:05 a.m. and The Colbert Report at 12:35 a.m. CTV executives later said the program would likely air earlier on The Comedy Network, which is owned by CTV. However, that channel also had a conflict, since it has long aired both Daily and Colbert during the 11:00 p.m. ET hour, simulcasting the Comedy Central feed.
The Comedy Network then attempted to move up both programs to 10:00 p.m. ET beginning in September 2010, presumably to make room for Conan at 11:00; however, there were intermittent "technical difficulties" with getting the shows in time for the earlier airing, particularly for a series of special live Daily episodes in late October, which meant re-runs were aired in their place. After viewer complaints about the missed episodes, Comedy elected to move both shows back to their previous timeslots, meaning that Conan was rescheduled on that channel to midnight, on a one-hour delay from TBS. On September 3, 2013, Much Music began broadcasting the program every Monday to Thursday at 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. Pacific), though it was moved back to its time-delayed midnight airing the following month. The repeat on CTV now airs at 1:37 a.m. after The Late Late Show with James Corden. On September 3, 2014, the program began airing on Much at 12:30 a.m. after @midnight. On January 9, 2017, Conan began airing at 11 p.m. ET again, only to again be moved back an hour to midnight in April of that same year.
Selling rights to a Canadian channel was necessary, since TBS ceased being available in Canada in October 2007. The local Atlanta station through which Canadian cable subscribers had previously received TBS programming then adopted a distinct schedule as WPCH-TV. Some speculated that WPCH might pick up the program anyway, since the revamped station continues to air some of the same syndicated series as TBS, but WPCH later indicated explicitly that it had no plans to broadcast the new O'Brien program.
In Portugal, Conan is retitled Conan O'Brien. The show is aired on SIC Radical, in the same timeslot as his previous NBC shows, with daily broadcasts beginning in October 5, 2009. The show airs Monday to Friday beginning around 20h45 to 21h30, following The Daily Show, with occasional reruns interspersed among new shows. New episodes air about two weeks after US broadcast.
[O'Brien:] That was the weekend that I was shooting our Cuba show, but...there was an amazing SNL 40th....
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