Turner doesn’t have a Conan problem, it has a TBS vs. Adult Swim problem

To hear everyone tell it, you’d think TBS has serious issues with its late-night TV lineup, what with the cancellation of Lopez Tonight after only two seasons, and the steep decline in viewership for Conan as it nears the end of its first year on basic cable.

In May, Conan averaged about 701,000 viewers in the 18-49 aged demographic, behind Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson. By the last week of July, Conan had averaged 707,000 total viewers — and only 550,000 aged 18-49. His numbers are much closer to Chelsea Handler’s than they are to Leno’s.

TBS is committed to Team Coco, though, for at least a second full year in Burbank. And their best hope is airing repeats of The Big Bang Theory before it? Hmmm. If The Office and Family Guy haven’t done the trick…

“Conan personifies the smart funny tone that we want TBS to have,” Steve Koonin, president of Time Warner’s Turner Entertainment Networks, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. “His program is the signature show of our line-up and the centerpiece of our network.”

“We want TBS to be a leading comedy brand,” Koonin added. “How we get to that destination we don’t have 100 percent mapped out today.”

Don’t look at your GPS or Google Maps. If they knew what they were doing in Atlanta, the Turner brass would be looking directly at Adult Swim for their problem — and their solution.

For months, the network has trumpeted the fact that Adult Swim (aka what Cartoon Network becomes after 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central) is the #1 network in cable (or otherwise) for viewers 18-34, the same audience that Conan O’Brien attracts. The average viewership on the network in adults 18-49 is 729,000, or more than Conan’s, and that’s just for the average show.

One of the top-ranked syndicated strips each weeknight for the 18-49 demo is Family Guy, which just so happens to air on Adult Swim at — wait for it — 11 and 11:30 p.m. Against Conan.

It’s not as if TBS executives or higher-ups at Turner don’t realize what they’re up against most is themselves.

Just name one original TBS comedy that leads into Conan. Did you guess Tyler Perry? Well, that’s a horrible guess. Because even though Perry’s shows do air one night of the week in the 10 o’clock block, they’re hardly comedies most of the time and they barely offer any overlap in viewers for Team Coco. TBS did try one season of Glory Daze, but you didn’t notice that much. Its other big comedy, Franklin & Bash, finished its first season with 3.6 million viewers (live plus three days), but Turner decided to move it to TNT instead. “We know drama”?

Meanwhile, over the past couple of years that TBS has sought to make itself a “comedy destination,” it’s been Adult Swim that has developed more and more live-action comedies that fit right into Conan’s demographic viewing wheelhouse. Delocated (starring former Late Night with Conan O’Brien scribe Jon Glaser), Childrens Hospital, NTSF:SD::SUV and Eagleheart, a show Team Coco produces!

Turner already has a late-night comedy destination, and it’s not TBS. Should they try to fix that? And if they’re serious about being funny on TBS, then why don’t they put their funniest properties on that network?

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “Turner doesn’t have a Conan problem, it has a TBS vs. Adult Swim problem

  1. Wow, could not agree more! You are 100% correct, and I’m speaking as someone in the 18-25 demographic who flips between Conan and adult swim from 11-12, then stays tuned to adult swim for the rest of the night…

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