Conan O'Brien is going to cable.
The former host of NBC's "Tonight Show," who lost the program to Jay Leno earlier this year, has signed a deal for a new late-night program on TBS, the basic cable network owned by Time Warner. O'Brien's show will start in November at 11 p.m. George Lopez, the comedian who currently occupies that slot, will have his show move to midnight.
"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 said in a statement.
The deal with TBS is sure to catch many by surprise. Most industry observers expected O'Brien to land at Fox. While Fox's top entertainment executives Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly were on board with going after O'Brien, persuading Fox's affiliates to carry the show was going to be more challenging. That's because those stations make a lot of money from the reruns they currently run at 11 p.m. This was also an issue for the stations owned by Fox itself.
The talks with TBS heated up in the last two weeks. As recently as a month ago, Turner executives had indicated they had little interest in going after O'Brien. Lopez has given them some solid numbers with younger viewers and is a contrast to Comedy Central's late-night duo of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.
But in the last few weeks, Turner's entertainment chief Steve Koonin changed his mind and started negotiating with O'Brien to come to the cable channel. O'Brien was game but did not want to go without Lopez being on board with the idea.
Turner executives huddled with Lopez and Warner Bros.' Telepictures Productions, which makes the show, and got the go-ahead.
"I can't think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in," Lopez said. "It's the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy."
-- Joe Flint