Almost six months ago it was announced that Conan O’Brien would be ending his TBS late night show Conan and moving on to a new program on HBO Max. Last night O’Brien, who’s the current longest-serving host in late night, announced the date for his final episode. It’ll air on TBS on June 24—which, when I first heard it, felt like a while off, but is actually next month, I am just now realizing.
Here’s O’Brien himself announcing the news last night:
Conan, of course, launched on TBS in 2010 after O’Brien was infamously forced off The Tonight Show mere months after taking over NBC’s flagship talk show. Conan’s had an entertaining, if low-rated, run in the 11 years since. It’s not entirely surprising to see the show come to an end; it’s already had one major format change, as it went from an hour to a half-hour in 2019 and dropped Conan’s beloved, long-time band.
O’Brien’s next project will be a new variety show on the streaming platform HBO Max. He’s staying within the larger Warner Media / Turner family, but bidding goodbye to TBS. Little is known about that next show.
The end of Conan ends O’Brien’s 27 year run as a late night talk show host. He debuted on NBC in 1993 with Late Night with Conan O’Brien, taking over David Letterman’s old show and timeslot after he jumped to CBS. Late Night had a rocky start, but within a year or two Conan and a staff full of fantastic writers had established a new identity for the show. It was a silly, absurd, consistently hilarious comedy show, and in time O’Brien was pegged to be Jay Leno’s replacement on The Tonight Show. Of course, that was basically a catastrophe; O’Brien inherited the show in 2009, but NBC, fearful of Jay Leno signing up with a competitor, gave the outgoing host a new nightly talk show at 10 p.m.. The Jay Leno Show was a ratings disaster, which hurt ratings for affiliates’ news programs, which then carried through to NBC’s new late night lineup. Affiliates basically demanded that NBC get Jay Leno out of that 10 p.m. time slot, and NBC’s solution was to move Leno back to 11:30 p.m.—which had been The Tonight Show’s time slot for over 50 years at that point. When O’Brien refused to move his show back to midnight to allow room for Leno’s new program, NBC bought him out of his contract, ending his Tonight Show stint after only a matter of months. Leno returned for a few more years of his creatively bankrupt Tonight Show before finally agreeing to retire in 2014. O’Brien, meanwhile, signed up with Turner and launched Conan—which has lasted all the way to next month.
O’Brien promises that last few weeks of Conan will be a celebration of the show’s history, with a look back at some of its best and most memorable moments. Special guests are also on deck—hopefully a return engagement from Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band? Conan was never a hit, and quickly became overlooked as the networks launched more and more late night talk shows of their own. Still, it had a loyal fan base, and preserved O’Brien’s distinctive brand of smart, sharp silliness as late night in general became largely political. Conan was always a refreshing change of pace from the network shows, and a nostalgic flashback to O’Brien’s heyday on Late Night. Given O’Brien’s charm and his significant talent as a comedy writer, and his proven ability to assemble some of the best comedy writing staffs in TV history, we’re definitely excited to see what he has in store with his new HBO Max store.