By Paula Hendrickson
It’s hard to believe Conan O’Brien has already been gone from The Tonight Show for longer than he was its host. After an extended absence from the small screen—and the successful live tour, “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television”—O’Brien finally returns to late-night TV on Conan, which premieres this Monday, Nov. 8, at 10 p.m. on TBS.
O’Brien’s original sidekick, Andy Richter, departed Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 2000 but returned for The Tonight Show. After that truncated run, no one would blame Richter for pursuing other projects, but he has signed on to be part of the new nightly show.
One personality who won’t be back is longtime bandleader Max Weinberg, whose recent heart surgery is said to have influenced his decision not to relocate (again) from New York to Los Angeles to join the show. The remaining band members have been re-dubbed “Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band.”
When the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien battle erupted in January, the issue of intellectual property rights further complicated extricating O’Brien from The Tonight Show. NBC wanted the rights to classic bits developed during O’Brien’s time on Late Night and The Tonight Show. The writers and producers of those bits disagreed. Others joked about how anyone could consider some of the contested material to be “intellectual” property.
The debate has left plenty of fans wondering how many, if any, classics will find their way to the new show; in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, O’Brien sounded a bit defiant and ready for a challenge, so you never know what might be resurrected on Conan.
Since Tom Hanks is to blame for the popularity of O’Brien’s “CoCo” moniker, it’s fitting he’ll be among the new show’s first guests. Jon Hamm and Seth Rogen are also scheduled to appear during the first week, as are musical guests Jack White, Soundgarden and Fistful of Mercy.
CoCo fans counting the days until the new show debuts might want to check out teamcoco.com. You’ll find links to all of the show’s “Team CoCo Interwebs”—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr—a blog, videos and more.
For the first night or two, Conan’s ratings may soar, but don’t expect the new TBS show to pull better ratings than Leno on a regular basis. That’s because basic cable simply doesn’t have as great a reach as network television. But being on cable should give O’Brien the freedom to play—and perhaps lure more network viewers to cable.
On Monday night, settle in with a hot cup of cocoa and catch up with CoCo—unless you don’t want to know what your co-workers are laughing about on Tuesday morning.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.