The much-anticipated debut of Conan O’Brien’s talk show Conan Nov. 8 on TBS will give George Lopez the rare opportunity to relaunch his year-old TBS talk show, Lopez Tonight, in a new midnight time slot. This season, Lopez has been in 21st place among basic-cable shows, averaging 864,000 people ages 18–49, behind 11 p.m. competitors like Family Guy reruns (1.5 million), Law & Order: SVU repeats (929,000), and The Daily Show (917,000). Now executive-produced by late-night guru Robert Morton (Late Show With David Letterman), Lopez Tonight will follow O’Brien’s production schedule—four days a week, up from three. And just like O’Brien and the other late-night hosts, Lopez will start performing live to tape.
Previously Lopez would spin his wheels in front of cameras for two and a half hours before his show was edited for broadcast. “I’m a big believer in old-school training,” Morton tells EW. “We have to make it feel like it’s happening now, live. It has to have that pace.”
Other tweaks that Morton says are in store for the show include moving the taping from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. each day to attract “better audiences” looking for that “night-out experience,” along with a new set that will separate Lopez’s desk from the performing area (“Viewers like to know the geography of a show”). Look for more conceptual funny pieces and remote packages, Morton promises, and shorter interviews. “These guys just needed liberation,” explains Morton. “I told George not to sell the comedy card too hard. He should feel free to write anything. Conan’s taking chances, so he should follow that lead.”
Lopez’s relaunch-week guests include Denzel Washington, Hilary Duff, and Bret Michaels.
For now, TBS is keeping mum about what type of ratings it hopes O’Brien’s new show will average or whether Conan is expected to eclipse The Daily Show at 11 p.m. “We expect him to be competitive,” says Michael Wright, head of programming for TBS. But Wright has no doubt that O’Brien will have an immediate impact on TBS’ existing late-night franchise. “George has done an admirable job developing a brand-new show from scratch with four different lead-ins on four different nights,” says Wright. “Audience flow is crucial. We expect Conan to be a win-win for George.”