LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It’s been three months since Conan O’Brien announced his new TBS late-night show, set to launch this fall, and his fans are starting to wonder when the carrot-topped host will finally reveal the show’s name. Will it be “Conan Tonight”? “Late Tonight with Conan O’Brien”? Just plain “Conan”?
And what’s with the delay? It’s a little weird for a such a high-profile show to be nameless this close to its November premiere, especially since TBS has already released two promos.
Maybe there are legal hurdles that might be in play here?
Titles are valuable trademarks, of course, and Coco’s pick will have to be vetted so it doesn’t create a “likelihood of confusion” with another mark. Given his fame, the show’s name probably will include some variation on “Conan” or “Conan O’Brien.” That makes sense, given that his other two shows, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” also used his name in the title.
But both of those trademarked titles are owned by his last employer, NBC, which didn’t part with O’Brien on the friendliest of terms. Would NBC try to stop him from using his own name in the title of a competing show? It can’t. His reps included language in his settlement agreement with NBC to allow him to use his own name in the title of another show (though the “Tonight Show” network probably wouldn’t be pleased if O’Brien followed the lead of his TBS colleague George Lopez (“Lopez Tonight”) and named the show “Conan Tonight”).
Case closed, right? Not quite. Let’s say O’Brien wants to call his show “Conan,” which TBS’s “Conan is coming this November” promos seem to suggest is a distinct possibility. Simple, straightforward, it’s how everyone will refer to the show anyway (“Did you see Will Ferrell take his shirt off on Conan last night?”).
Just one problem: A quick search of the Patent and Trademark Office website reveals O’Brien doesn’t own the trademark on “Conan.” Despite his 17 years on television hosting NBC shows with “Conan O’Brien” in the title, use of the “Conan” mark for “entertainment” purposes is owned by a European company called Conan Properties International, which for decades has used the “Conan” mark in connection with the Conan the Barbarian films.
Will we see a Conan vs. Conan fight to the death? Probably not. If Team Coco wants to name the show “Conan,” it could decide to plow forward and test the legal waters. At the very least, there is a good argument that the average person watching a commercial for something called “Conan” would know to expect self-pleasuring-animal humor, not heavily-accented barbarians (unless maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger was a guest). But there is another Conan the Barbarian movie in the works, and this one’s called just “Conan.” So the owner of the Conan mark might argue that the O’Brien show could confuse the public and damage the movie.
Given the legal fracas that led to O’Brien leaving NBC in the first place, it’s likely that if he wants to name the show “Conan,” his team will probably just pay Conan Properties International a little money so it doesn’t sue. Or it could just go with “Conan O’Brien,” which not even the most clueless TV viewer would mistake for a sword-and-sandal adventure.
Problem solved. Unless, of course, O’Brien decides to call the show “Jeff Zucker and Jay Leno Wouldn’t Know Funny If It Smacked Them In Their Big Fat Heads.