As our own Scott Tobias observed in his comprehensive look at the state of Conan O’Brien, it would be shortsighted to make a judgment on the success of Conan after only eight short months in existence. However, it’s now been nine months, which means it’s safe for the Wall Street Journal to do just that: “TBS’s pricey Conan O’Brien experiment is flopping,” the article begins, before delving into all the options that the basic-cable channel is now considering in order to shore up the flagging show. According to their figures, Conan has experienced a 60-percent drop in viewers since debuting last year, and as of now, the show draws an average of 958,000 people per episode, rating far behind all of the major talk-show competitors in its time slot on broadcast and cable networks—even Chelsea Lately on some weeks—and only outpacing Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson, whose shows begin after midnight. Clearly, not exactly the brand-redefining zeitgeist moment they expected when they dropped $12 million.
So to boost the numbers, TBS is now "doubling down" to surround Conan with more complementary comedy shows, recently ditching Lopez Tonight, developing new original sitcoms, and—perhaps most depressing of all—spending $2 million per episode to run repeats of The Big Bang Theory right before it, two nights a week. To reiterate: Conan’s best hope right now is to capitalize on the lead-in of Big Bang Theory reruns. Of course, he won’t have very long to do that, as while the network’s official statement is that they hope that O’Brien will have a show at TBS for a very long time, negotiations are expected to begin within the next six months for the third season or beyond. Still, TBS remains adamant that Conan is “the centerpiece of our network,” and continues to trumpet the fact that O’Brien attracts the youngest audience among all late-night talk shows. Unfortunately, it looks like not enough of those young people are actually into watching a late-night talk show.