April 12, 2010 / 1:42 AM / in 8 years

Conan O'Brien makes surprise move to TBS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Conan O‘Brien has found a new home at cable television channel TBS for his late-night talk show, surprising media observers who had expected him to go to mainstream network Fox.

TBS, whose slogan is “Very Funny”, said on Monday that O‘Brien’s new show was expected to start in November at 11 p.m. It will put the quirky red-headed comedian’s brand of humor in competition for audiences with the Jon Stewart’s satirical news show and the popular Stephen Colbert, both on Comedy Central.

O‘Brien quit “The Tonight Show” in January after just seven months when NBC was forced into an embarrassing reshuffle of its late night line-up after axing its low-rated “The Jay Leno Show” at 10 p.m.

Leno has since returned to his old job as host of “The Tonight Show” -- one of the most-coveted jobs in U.S. television. But O‘Brien was barred from launching a new TV show before September as part of a $45 million exit deal with NBC.

The announcement was made as O‘Brien launched a U.S. comedy tour called “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television.”

“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 joked about the move. TBS has fewer overall viewers than the leading U.S. networks NBC, CBS, ABC or Fox.

Fox was the first to woo O‘Brien after his bitter exit from NBC in the hope of adding a late-night talk show to its line-up.

But The Hollywood Reporter said on Sunday that talks had run into problems with Fox’s local affiliates, who had made investments and commitments to advertisers for reruns already booked for the late-night slot.

TBS has a strong comedy slate and a young demographic likely to respond to O‘Brien’s sketch-inspired comedy. It said on Monday that O‘Brien began negotiations in earnest with the cable channel just last week.

The cable channel, a division of Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting System, said comedian George Lopez had personally called O‘Brien asking him to join TBS. Lopez’s own comedy show “Lopez Tonight” will move back to midnight.

Lopez said he was happy with the move, adding “It’s the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy.”

Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said the addition of O‘Brien would switch the focus of late night from the four leading networks to cable TV.

“For decades, late-night TV has been dominated by broadcast television. Now with a young audience and a growing late-night lineup, TBS is set to be the choice of comedy fans for years to come.”

O‘Brien’s as-yet untitled one-hour show will air Monday-Thursday.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Philip Barbara

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