Conan O’Brien stirs up Las Vegas convention


The surprise move by Conan O’Brien to sign with TBS was a hot topic as Los Angeles Times media writer Joe Flint moderated a session at the NAB Show with Dana Walden and Gary Newman, the dual Chairmen of 20th Century Fox Television. “This is a big, bold move by TBS,” declared Walden.

“I think it is a sign of the health of the cable system,” said Newman, since TBS managed to do the deal despite the publicly known interest of a broadcast network – Fox, which like the studio that Newman and Walden run, is owned by News Corporation.

“For us, it is a relief,” Newman admitted, since late night is a big revenue generator for his syndication business.

Turning to a current dilemma for another studio, flint asked the duo what they would do if they were CBS and the Warner Bros. studio having to negotiate with Charlie Sheen for his reported salary demand of $2 million per episode to continue starring in “Two and a Half Men.”

“We’ve certainly been in that position before,” said Walden. But she said it’s not rocket science. So, the studio can calculate what the value is – for first run, syndication, DVDs and such – and then negotiate the salary demand. Once you decide at what figure you can walk away, she said you can probably get a deal done.

While the business model for television shows has been changing, the 20th Television duo said there’s no exact answer yet for how to deal with multiple delivery platforms and that all of the studios are still experimenting. They noted that Hulu is proving valuable for building consumer buzz about shows in their first and second seasons, but the question arises for season three and beyond whether to hold back the online delivery to protect the syndication value of a series.

“Hit shows are still worth a tremendous amount of money,” Newman said, but what’s changed is that the studios have to figure out how to maximize the money collected from various platforms.

While some competing studios have moved toward producing exclusively for their co-owned network, Newman said 20th Television has a different view, with News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and COO Chase Carey sharing the view that having the studio develop programming for other networks can be a very lucrative business.

So what new shows are the two studio execs excited about for the coming season? Asked to pick a drama and a comedy each, Walden began by naming the drama “Midland” as a “high octane, flashy soap opera,” and the comedy “Traffic Light,” which depicts three men at different stages of their relationships.

Since Walden had already taken Traffic Light, Newman picked “Keep Hope Alive” as his comedy. It’s based on a young man not prepared for fatherhood having to raise a young girl – and his parents helping, but trying not to repeat the mistakes they made raising him. For the drama Newman went with “Ride-Along,” a cop show set in Chicago, which focuses a lot on the “corruption that exists in that city.”