'Conan' In Trouble? TBS Ramps Up Investment After Flagging Ratings

'Conan' In Trouble?

TBS is doubling down on its investment in "Conan" since the ratings for Conan O'Brien's late night show have failed to deliver, according to the Wall Street Journal.

TBS has staked a great deal on the success of "Conan," in hopes of building a new kind of comedy brand around the program. But viewership of the show has decreased 60% since it debuted nine months ago, after Conan emerged from his debacle with Jay Leno at NBC.

O'Brien trails his major competitors at 11 p.m., who include Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and Jay Leno. He even fell behind Chelsea Handler, a relative newcomer, during some weeks. O'Brien's total viewership fell from 2.4 million in the show's first month on air in 2010 to 958,000 people in July. In comparison, he drew an average of 2.9 million viewers as the host of "The Tonight Show" in the last half of 2009 through early 2010.

Now the stakes are even higher, as TBS reportedly plans to pour more money into expensive programming to prop "Conan" up. The network will air repeats of "The Big Bang Theory" as a lead-in two nights a week at a reported cost of $2 million an episode. It is also developing new original television shows to complement "Conan," including "The Wedding Band," about a group of friends who perform together at weddings.

Speaking to the Journal, Steve Koonin, president of TBS's parent company, expressed confidence in "Conan," calling it "the signature show of our line-up" and "the centerpiece of our network." This echoes earlier comments he has made. In an interview with New York magazine earlier in August, Koonin said that he "couldn't be happier" with O'Brien's ratings.

Koonin acknowledged that the network was still trying to develop as a comedy brand, but said, "How we get to that destination we don't have 100 percent mapped out today." TBS recently canceled "Lopez Tonight," its only other late night show, in August. The premiere of the show in October 2009 had marked the network's first attempt to break into the late night show scene.


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