Conan O’Brien Says TBS Honchos Resisted 30-Minute Show, Giving Up ‘Hour’s Worth of Ads’

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Conan O’Brien spoke at length about his plan to cut back his TBS late night program “Conan” to a half-hour next year, arguing the new format should spark his creative juices.

“There are parts of late night that feel very pro forma,” O’Brien said during an extensive interview with New York Magazine’s Vulture. “At this stage in my career, doing half an hour could shock me into coming up with new stuff.”

“Conan” will scale back to a half-hour beginning sometime in 2019.

O’Brien argued the late-night space, more crowded than ever before, is due for some change since the days of Steve Allen and Johnny Carson. “They turned late night into this massive part of the American experience. But there were elements of what hosts did that were about killing time.”

“I used to love doing a whole hour; that was my assignment,” O’Brien continued. He said that doing the travel shows started to change his thinking, since those were less rigid. “At a certain point you start thinking, ‘Wait a minute. Why am I still doing it the way I’ve been doing it?'”

When TBS announced the move in May, it was cynically viewed as cutting back due to low ratings for “Conan.” But the longtime host explained the initial push back came from the business side.

“They didn’t want to stop selling an hour’s worth of ads,” he said, adding that despite the shorter run time, they won’t be making less stuff. “We might even be making more content and just putting more of it directly online.” Part of the move to 30 minutes included Turner expanding on its partnership with O’Brien’s Team Coco. Along with more digital content, TBS now has O’Brien’s entire catalog from his “Late Night” days on NBC. Later this year, O’Brien and a curated team of stand-up comics will embark on a multi-city tour.

O’Brien added that he believes the move is better for his show — after all, John Oliver with HBO and fellow TBS late night host Samantha Bee have seen success with just 30 minutes. “I don’t know — I think we fit better in the current environment at half an hour,” he said. “It’s possible this change ends up being a bad business decision. But I don’t think it will be.”

Read the full interview with Vulture here.

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