Big news from Team Coco: Conan O’Brien’s ending one show and launching another. Huh.
Conan O’Brien’s TBS talk show, Conan, will be wrapping up in June 2021, at the end of its 10th season. He’ll then transition to a new weekly variety show on HBO Max, sticking within the Warner family. His travel specials, Conan Without Borders, will continue to air on TBS.
Conan launched on TBS in 2010 after that whole Tonight Show kerfuffle, and although it never quite got the attention that the ever-growing menagerie of network TV late night shows receive, it was still consistently the best late night talk show for comedy fans. It was especially good at booking up-and-coming stand-up talent. It also became known for O’Brien’s regular travelogues, which were eventually spun off into Conan Without Borders. For most of its run Conan was a traditional hourlong late night talk show, but it switched formats at the start of 2019, cutting back to a half-hour and ditching the desk, musical guests, and (sadly) the best band in late night. The show had been renewed through 2022, but it’ll be ending early, with its last episode airing on TBS in June 2021.
Before Conan, O’Brien hosted two different late night shows on NBC for 17 years. Late Night with Conan O’Brien launched in 1993 after David Letterman left for CBS, and after a rocky start established itself as one of the funniest TV shows of its era. He was eventually groomed to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009, but that whole situation turned into a disaster when a desperate NBC handed the last hour of its traditional primetime block over to a new Leno talk show that helped crater the network’s already low ratings. With such a weak lead-in hurting the ratings for the local news, NBC affiliates threatened to revolt against the network and stop carrying the Leno show. Instead of letting Leno walk and potentially start a new program on a competing network, NBC tried to relaunch his talk show in the traditional Tonight Show time slot and push O’Brien’s show back a half-hour. O’Brien refused, got a massive deal to leave the network, and Leno returned to The Tonight Show for four more forgettable years. If you’re too young to remember this, you might be shocked to find out this whole situation was breathlessly covered by serious news outlets on a daily basis back in late 2009 and early 2010.
In a statement released by Warner, O’Brien was characteristically self-effacing while invoking the patron saint of all talk show hosts. “In 1993 Johnny Carson gave me the best advice of my career: ‘As soon as possible, get to a streaming platform.’ I’m thrilled that I get to continue doing whatever the hell it is I do on HBO Max, and I look forward to a free subscription,” O’Brien is quoted as saying in the press release.