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‘Conan’ & TBS Mull Potential Format Changes

Deadline logo Deadline 1/5/2017 Nellie Andreeva
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Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show on TBS will undergo a transformation. Discussions are underway how to evolve the talker, which currently airs four times a week. Plans are still in flux, but Conan would likely cut back on airtime — either going from one hour to 30 minutes a night, or to fewer shows a week — while ramping up popular features such as Conan on the road (and abroad, following the program’s successful stints in Cuba, Armenia and most recently Germany) as well as remote pieces, like the ride-along skits with Kevin Hart, which have gone viral online. A decision will be made in a few months with the format tweaks implemented “further down the road,” possibly not before 2018, according to Conan executive producer and long-time O’Brien collaborator Jeff Ross.

The future of Conan became topic of conversation today following a report by TheWrap, quoting Turner CEO John Martin, that the show is being retooled to a weekly format. Ross called the story “fairly inaccurate.” “What happened was, a few months ago, we went to (TNT and TBS president) Kevin Reilly to discuss the future of the show,” Ross told Deadline. “Conan has been doing this (daily late-night show) for 24 years. There are parts that he loves, like travel and remotes, but when you do a show 4 days a week, there is only so much you can do.”

At the meeting, different ideas were kicked around, including reducing the show to a half-hour or keeping it one-hour but airing fewer times, once or twice, for instance.

“We had been going back-and-forth that we have to figure out over the next year or so what the next evolution of the show is,” Ross said. “After 24 years, we still have ambitions and we want to work; we want to do more of the things we love and that get traction and less of the stuff that’s just killing time. We also want to build our digital business.”

However, at the end of that meeting, “we didn’t arrive at a decision yet, there was no time table (for a decision), it was just a conversation.”

There have been ongoing conversations since that meeting, but no final decision what the next incarnation of Conan should be exactly. “We have been doing this for 24 years,” said Ross, who has been with O’Brien on his two NBC late-night shows before following him to TBS. “When you have been doing something one way for so long, it’s hard to nail down basically doing a new show.” There is no pressure to lock down a decision as Conan has been renewed through 2018.

“We keep coming back to doing less shows,” Ross said. Other ideas discussed during the conversations include expanding Conan‘s annual presence at Comic-Con and stay in New York.

Once a rarity, represented almost solely by Bill Maher at HBO, weekly late-night shows have been gaining traction and visibility with the breakout success of John Oliver at HBO and Samantha Bee at TBS. Neither had had any interest in a nightly program.

Asked for comment, Reilly also confirmed that no decision on the future of Conan has been made.

“Conan remains an invaluable franchise, partner and producer for our TBS brand and we’ll be in business with him for a long time,” he said in a statement. “As the media landscape continues to evolve,  Conan will continue to lead the evolution of what a talk show will be in the digital age. At this time, we have no plans to change the format or frequency of his popular TBS show. In addition to Conan’s daily responsibilities to his talk show, we continue to have very ambitious plans that will further broaden and evolve our relationship with Conan.”

In addition to Conan, O’Brien and Ross’ production company Conaco is producing TBS’ new comedy series People Of Earth, which was recently renewed for a second season and the upcoming TBS animated comedy series Final Space. The company also is working on a series based on the popular Conan segment Clueless Gamer and on a deal with Snapchat for original content, Ross said.

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