End of an era as late-night TV grows on cable

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 12, 2010 — It’s the end of the world as we know it.

TBS’ decision, announced today, to mount two back-to-back late-night shows on weekday evenings means we’ve reached another one of those watershed moments in the evolution of cable TV’s long effort to even the playing field with the old broadcast networks.

Have you heard? Conan’s going to cable.

Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable:  Two hours of original late-night talk and comedy on a basic cable channel — a two-hour block of programming that for years was something only a broadcast network could afford to do.

Not anymore.

By signing former NBC star Conan O’Brien and pairing him with George Lopez, TBS is signaling that the era of late-night dominance by the likes of NBC and CBS is over.  TBS is saying: We can do it too — we have the distribution, the money (via advertising and subscriber revenue), the audience numbers, the channel positions and the know-how to do what the old guard can do.

Imagine it: Here’s this cable network that traffics almost exclusively in reruns of old sitcoms, running hour upon hour of them — “The Office,” “Family Guy” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” some “Seinfeld” and heaven knows what else.

And yet, despite this cable channel’s paucity of original anything, its analysis of the TV landscape has revealed that the time is right to take on the biggest, most established TV networks in late-night TV, and not with half-hour satires such as “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” or with a single hour either.  No — TBS plans on taking on CBS and NBC with two hours of traditional television: Personality-hosted late-night shows with monologues and celebrity guests — the kinds of shows seen since the dawn of time only on the so-called “big” networks (and only on CBS since 1993).

Over the years, the cable networks grew and the broadcast networks shrank.  Now, in the wake of Conan O’Brien — a network TV stalwart — deciding to stake his future on cable, you might say they’re all pretty much the same.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

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