How Conan's Return Changes the Late Night Landscape

How will the competition respond to tonight's premiere?

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Conan O'Brien's new talk show premieres on TBS tonight. And while his return is undoubtedly good news for old-time baseball players, sexually adventurous bears, and the Irish, what kind of impact will it have on the late-night competition? A variety of opinions from around the Web.

  • Battle for Young Viewers The Wrap's Dylan Stableford suggests O'Brien's true competition is not network stalwarts David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Team Conan bête noire Jay Leno, but Comedy Central fake newsmen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. "The 'Daily Show' now faces something it didn’t have before: competition," writes Stableford. Stewart's program "attracts more adults 18-34 than any other late night talk show on the air, and has attracted more men in that age range since 2005." The argument that O'Brien will challenge Comedy Central's hold over young viewers "makes sense from a cultural standpoint. Both O’Brien and Stewart (with his faux foil Stephen Colbert) have more of an online following than the rest their late-night rivals, save maybe for Jimmy Fallon." Stewart's success with the recent Rally To Restore Sanity, Stableford argues, proves it is possible to "put [a] basic cable brand in the spotlight of a national stage."
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm Time's James Poniewozik writes that O'Brien's ratings will be less significant than the credibility his presence lends to the TBS late-night brand. Explains Poniewozik:
Late-night is not a zero-sum game; every person who watches Conan need not come at the expense of another show. Late-night audiences are relatively small, and there are a lot of potential viewers who may not have been watching any late-night shows. That said, there were a few million people watching Conan on The Tonight Show when he went off the air. I don't think anyone expects him to pull in that kind of number on TBS, but those people had to develop other habits in the meantime: Did they start watching another talk show? Adult Swim? Xbox?
  • Tough Competition O'Brien will need a stellar first week to draw the attention of non-diehard fans, reports Bill Carter in The New York Times. "Unlike his last entrance, in the sleepy month of June, with few big movie stars making the rounds, Mr. O’Brien is coming on to a noisy, crowded, midseason stage," writes Carter. "Every other late-night show is up and running this week, heavily booked with major names looking to push their fall projects. On CBS, Mr. Letterman, who made a conscious decision in June 2009 to take a breezy, low-intensity week and allow Mr. O’Brien his inevitable heavily attended opening bow, is hardly laying down this time. On Monday, he has booked Harrison Ford and the music act of the moment, Cee Lo Green; on Tuesday, it is Denzel Washington and Bon Jovi." The latest reports that Christine O'Donnell will appear with Leno on The Tonight Show later this week only adds to the stakes.
  • All in the Game It remains to be seen whether Conan can go back to just being a comedian after 10 months as a social lightning rod, says NPR's Linda Holmes. Since leaving NBC, O'Brien has alternately been deemed "a misfit for the 11:30 slot, a sore loser, a master of social media, a flop, and a phoenix. He's been practically in hiding in some moments and rather overexposed in others." Starting tonight, Holmes explains, O'Brien ceases to be a cause and resumes his existence as a talk show host, one with "the opportunity to succeed or fail on the strength of whatever happens on screen."
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