CONAN O'BRIEN MAKES TBS DEAL! How It All Went Down. And How Team Conan Thought Out Of The Network Box All Along

By Nikki Finke, Nellie Andreeva

BREAKING NEWS! 8TH UPDATE 9:30 PM: George Lopez Tonight: “Go LoCo”

7TH UPDATE 5:15 PM: Sandra Bullock Going On Lopez Post-Conan?

6TH UPDATE 5:15 PM: The squabble over whether or not the Fox broadcast network execs were still in negotiations with team Conan, or had passed, continues, now centering on the meeting the two sides had planned for this Wednesday. According to O’Briens reps, the meeting was set last week by Fox toppers Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly for this Wednesday — a day after Fox met with affiliates at NAB in Las vegas — and it was still about bringing the O’Brien late night show to the broadcast network. But Fox insiders counter that the meeting was in fact set up for sibling cable network FX to make its pitch to O’Brien’s reps, and supposedly it was skedded after the broadcast network had passed on the show, and after hearing that O’Brien might be interested in moving to cable. They say FX’s executive team was in the process of preparing a presentation when the TBS deal news broke this morning. (Hey, didn’t the Fox people at first claim they knew about today’s announcement in advance? Hmm.) Now, Team Conan is strenuously denying Fox’s new claim. “Fox never passed. They never said to us they had passed. Never, ever. Not true. We’d always said we’d listen to everybody. And yes, we knew John Landgraf [FX network president] would be there because we took a lot of cable meetings and syndication meetings. But Fox broadcasting was still in this.”

5TH UPDATE 3 PM: We’ve just learned that Fox was by no means done negotiating with Team Conan despite what insiders inside the broadcast network are spinning. In fact, before today’s TBS announcement, Fox last week had set up a meeting for this Wednesday with O’Brien’s reps about Conan’s talk show. That would have been a day after Fox’s Tuesday meeting with its affiliates. at the NAB in Las Vegas. The meeting was set after months of talks between Team Conan and Fox broadcast bigwigs Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly. “Peter and Kevin took a long time. There were issues for all of us. But there was a meeting set for Wednesday at their request. So if they had passed [on the show], why last week did they set a meeting for this week?”

Meanwhile, Team Conan had been fielding a flood of inquiries from cable networks and syndicators after the moment O’Brien’s stay at NBC went south. But we’ve learned that TBS didn’t make an initial overture to the late-night host until March 31. It was Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, who came up with the idea and started the negotiations, with Michael Wright, the head of programming for TBS and TNT and TCM, and SVP Sandra Dewey playing key roles. “We’ve been very happy with George [Lopez], but when we sat there and saw the audience for Leno and Letterman getting older, we thought here is Conan, the voice of the generation, and it could be transformative for TBS to put him and George together,” Koonin told Nellie Andreeva this afternoon.

A source told Nikki Finke that Team Conan liked the idea of TBS because “it’s cable, and one of things learned after the whole NBC experience is that Conan connected through Twitter and the Internet with his young audience, and they’re watching a lot of cable like what his lead-in would be there, Family Guy and The Office…” Indeed, Koonin keeps saying his TBS audience has an average age of 35. That’s 10 years younger than Fox, and 18 years younger than NBC or CBS. He’s all about youthful demographics, not old people eyeballs.

So Koonin flew in to Los Angeles to meet with Lopez on Wednesday. “He picked up the phone [to call O’Brien] and 60-something hours later, we had a deal,” Koonin said. It was closed late Friday night.

When that happened, the TBS promo department was immediately summoned in to cut a spot announcing O’Brien’s upcoming show. The promo was completed today and will start airing tonight, Koonin told Nellie. The huge demand for it crashed TBS’ website all day…

4TH UPDATE 2 PM: TBS is starting immediately to promo Conan’s new show. Here’s the link — but the TBS flacks tell me it’s mobbed. So it may take several tries to get through. (more…)

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