BREAKING NEWS! 8TH UPDATE 9:30 PM: George Lopez Tonight: “Go LoCo”

7TH UPDATE 5:15 PM: Sandra Bullock Going On Lopez Post-Conan?

conan tbs6TH UPDATE 5:15 PM: The squabble over whether or not the Fox broadcast network execs were still in negotiations with team Conan, or had passed, continues, now centering on the meeting the two sides had planned for this Wednesday. According to O’Briens reps, the meeting was set last week by Fox toppers Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly for this Wednesday — a day after Fox met with affiliates at NAB in Las vegas – and it was still about bringing the O’Brien late night show to the broadcast network. But Fox insiders counter that the meeting was in fact set up for sibling cable network FX to make its pitch to O’Brien’s reps, and supposedly it was skedded after the broadcast network had passed on the show, and after hearing that O’Brien might be interested in moving to cable. They say FX’s executive team was in the process of preparing a presentation when the TBS deal news broke this morning. (Hey, didn’t the Fox people at first claim they knew about today’s announcement in advance? Hmm.) Now, Team Conan is strenuously denying Fox’s new claim. “Fox never passed. They never said to us they had passed. Never, ever. Not true. We’d always said we’d listen to everybody. And yes, we knew John Landgraf [FX network president] would be there because we took a lot of cable meetings and syndication meetings. But Fox broadcasting was still in this.”

5TH UPDATE 3 PM: We’ve just learned that Fox was by no means done negotiating with Team Conan despite what insiders inside the broadcast network are spinning. In fact, before today’s TBS announcement, Fox last week had set up a meeting for this Wednesday with O’Brien’s reps about Conan’s talk show. That would have been a day after Fox’s Tuesday meeting with its affiliates. at the NAB in Las Vegas. The meeting was set after months of talks between Team Conan and Fox broadcast bigwigs Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly. ”Peter and Kevin took a long time. There were issues for all of us. But there was a meeting set for Wednesday at their request. So if they had passed [on the show], why last week did they set a meeting for this week?”

Meanwhile, Team Conan had been fielding a flood of inquiries from cable networks and syndicators after the moment O’Brien’s stay at NBC went south. But we’ve learned that TBS didn’t make an initial overture to the late-night host until March 31. It was Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, who came up with the idea and started the negotiations, with Michael Wright, the head of programming for TBS and TNT and TCM, and SVP Sandra Dewey playing key roles. “We’ve been very happy with George [Lopez], but when we sat there and saw the audience for Leno and Letterman getting older, we thought here is Conan, the voice of the generation, and it could be transformative for TBS to put him and George together,” Koonin told Nellie Andreeva this afternoon.

A source told Nikki Finke that Team Conan liked the idea of TBS because “it’s cable, and one of things learned after the whole NBC experience is that Conan connected through Twitter and the Internet with his young audience, and they’re watching a lot of cable like what his lead-in would be there, Family Guy and The Office…” Indeed, Koonin keeps saying his TBS audience has an average age of 35. That’s 10 years younger than Fox, and 18 years younger than NBC or CBS. He’s all about youthful demographics, not old people eyeballs.

So Koonin flew in to Los Angeles to meet with Lopez on Wednesday. “He picked up the phone [to call O’Brien] and 60-something hours later, we had a deal,” Koonin said. It was closed late Friday night.

When that happened, the TBS promo department was immediately summoned in to cut a spot announcing O’Brien’s upcoming show. The promo was completed today and will start airing tonight, Koonin told Nellie. The huge demand for it crashed TBS’ website all day…

4TH UPDATE 2 PM: TBS is starting immediately to promo Conan’s new show. Here’s the link — but the TBS flacks tell me it’s mobbed. So it may take several tries to get through.

3RD UPDATE 12:30 PM: We’ve confirmed that Conan does own his new late night talk show on TBS, and it will be Los Angeles-based (“he’s not moving his kids again”), and the deal is “very long-term” paying him $10+ million in upfront salary (in addition to his profitable equity).

Fox just issued this statement: “Conan is a great talent and we wish him every success.” Sources tell us that Fox’s senior executive team which had been in discussions with Team Conan told O’Brien’s representatives last week that it didn’t look like a deal could happen imminently because of all the clearances necessary to launch a late-night show. Many of Fox’s O&O and affiliate stations were locked into long-term syndication deals for the time slot following their local late night news. “They couldn’t unwind the long-term syndication deals with 30 Rock and The Office,” a source tells us. Insiders stress that Fox still wanted Conan despite the structural issues. They also insist Peter Rice did everything he could, but that a deal just couldn’t be made immediately. They say Fox wasn’t shell-shocked by today’s news and in fact knew about it in advance, but the broadcast network had agreed to keep all information confidential while O’Brien negotiated elsewhere and sealed the deal.

The TBS deal came about with lightning speed. Only a week and a half ago, Michael Wright, the head of programming for TBS and TNT and TCM, called Conan’s manager Gavin Polone and asked if O’Brien would consider TBS. (Wright and Polone know each other well because TBS airs the sitcom My Boys which Polone co-produces.)

Polone’s reaction was  to ask what happens to George Lopez’s show which airs at 11 PM. Wright assured him that Lopez Tonight would move to midnight. “Uh, we’ve heard that story before in another context,” our sources say Palone responded, referring to the NBC/Jay Leno mess that wound up with Conan losing The Tonight Show.

Next thing, Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, flew in from Atlanta (where the media company is based) to personally pitch to O’Brien and Team Conan. Koonin was “very dynamic and very aggressive,” a source tells us. “But we just didn’t want another situation. He kept assuring us, ‘I know George. George will see this as a good thing.’ And then George called Conan.

“What Lopez told O’Brien was, ‘Not only do I want it. but here’s why it’s good for you.’ Conan was very moved, very impressed. And then everyone met with the other TBS people again.” That’s when the negotiating began in earnest. As one insider told us, “I’ve never been involved in a deal this complex that was negotiated over 2 days. Literally, 2 days.”

They came up with what’s described to us as “a good deal” that made both TBS and Team Conan (O’Brien, exec producer Jeff Ross, WME’s Rick Rosen, lawyer Leigh Brecheen, and manager Polone) ”very happy”. But an insider stresses, “It wasn’t about the money for Conan. It was about the people — about George and the two TBS guys.”

2ND UPDATE 10:45 AM: We hear that Conan O’Brien will own the late night show on TBS, the same way that David Letterman owns his show on CBS (both the Late Show and the Late Late Show). O’Brien’s salary is north of $10M (not including ownership). And Fox appeared pretty shellshocked, apparently kept in the dark from the reaction we’re getting to today’s big announcement. This seems to be a blow to Peter Rice was put in charge of the “Get Conan” operation by Rupert Murdoch himself. And Fox was expected to discuss the Conan situation at its affiliate meeting at NAB in Vegas tomorrow. Wanna bet that’ll make for an awkward moment there.

10:20 AM UPDATE: The news that Conan O’Brien has picked a new TV home comes just as Conan kicks off his comedy tour today. Yes, this venue is a surprise. But these days, it’s not like there’s a big difference between a network and a cable show: all those 500+ channels seem indistinguishable. And TBS has done a terrific job branding and promoting Lopez Tonight. (O’Brien began talks in earnest with TBS just last week, after George Lopez personally called him to ask that he consider joining the network’s late-night line-up. “I can’t think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in,” Lopez said. “It’s the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy.”)

A lot of showbiz reporters got it wrong (not us!) speculating about where Conan would land. They were fixated on Fox and assumed he would only go to a network. But the fact is that, we knew from the very beginning, Team Conan (including his exec producer Jeff Ross, and WME’s Rick Rosen, and manager Gavin Palone, and attorney Leigh Brecheen), were thinking way outside the network box. For instance, there were discussions with Microsoft about an XBox deal for Conan’s show that would have broken new ground. And yes, discussions took place with Fox. Long presumed the most natural choice for the comedian, who had been clear that he was only interested in a nightly talk show, the sticking point was clearing a time slot behind the late evening news where the Fox O&O [owned and operated] and affiliate stations all have long-term syndication deals.

On the other hand, TBS offered O’Brien a weeknight platform (Monday-through-Thursday at 11 PM, with Lopez Tonight moving to midnight) without the hassle of having to launch in only parts of the country if not all markets were able to be cleared. “But TBS was far more aggressive from the very beginning. They wooed him hard,” one insider tells me. “And Conan was incredibly impressed by executives there.” Team Conan also liked the strong lead-in of Family Guy and The Office, as well as the prospect that on cable he could have “more freedom to be creatively more exciting,” a source tells us. “And then George [Lopez] called Conan and convinced him to do it.”

The good news is that, since he is going to a cable network, Conan won’t face the same ratings scrutiny as if he were to go head-to-head with David Letterman and Jay Leno on a broadcast network. But airing from 11 PM to midnight Monday to Thursday, O’Brien will now face off directly with the formidable basic cable late-night duo of Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.

We understand the budget for the show will be the same as it was on NBC. And that, of course, “the deal is very good” especially considering he already has NBC’s $40 million in his pocket. And, of course, Conan was, well, Conan about it all: “In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”

9:45 AM: Here’s the statement:

Conan Picks a Home – And It’s TBS

Comedy icon Conan O’Brien is joining TBS to host a late-night talk show that is expected to debut in November. The EmmyÒ-winning comedian’s new program will be followed by Lopez Tonight, which will shift to a midnight time slot.

O’Brien began talks in earnest with TBS just last week, after George Lopez personally called him to ask that he consider joining the network’s late-night line-up. “I can’t think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in,” Lopez said. “It’s the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy.”

Said O’Brien: “In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”

O’Brien and Lopez will give TBS a dynamic lineup in late-night television. TBS – which has built a programming slate that appeals to a young, diverse audience – expects O’Brien to be a long-term addition to the network’s late-night landscape. O’Brien will host his hour-long, yet-to-be-titled show Mondays through Thursdays at 11 p.m. (ET/PT).

“Conan has been the comedic voice for a generation. TBS already has a huge audience of young comedy lovers, and Conan’s show will give these fans even more reasons to watch our network,” said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks.

With the addition of O’Brien’s show, TBS will establish two hours of late-night talk. Lopez Tonight, while just a few months old, has already become a destination show for a diverse audience. The Lopez Tonight audience is young as well, with a median age of just 34.

“For decades, late-night TV has been dominated by broadcast television,” Koonin said. “Now, with a young audience and a growing late-night lineup, TBS is set to be the choice of comedy fans for years to come.”

O’Brien is well-known from his many years in comedy. He grew up in a large, Irish Catholic family in a suburb of Boston. His love of comedy began at an early age and carried on when he entered Harvard University, where he earned a degree in history. During his years at Harvard, he also wrote for the legendary Harvard Lampoon publication, eventually serving as its president.

After leaving Harvard, O’Brien went to Los Angeles, where he found several writing jobs for television, including HBO’s Not Necessarily the News. After returning to the East Coast, O’Brien joined the writing team at Saturday Night Live, earning his first Emmy in 1989. He was writing for the hit show The Simpsons when Lorne Michaels approached him about a new late-night series for NBC. In 1993, Late Night with Conan O’Brien launched. The show ran for 16 years, ending when O’Brien briefly took over The Tonight Show.

O’Brien is currently touring the United States and Canada with his live show, Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.

TBS, a division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., is television’s top-rated comedy network. It serves as home to such original comedy series as My Boys, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns, as well as the upcoming Neighbors from Hell and Are We There Yet?; the hit late-night series Lopez Tonight, starring George Lopez; hot contemporary comedies like The Office and Family Guy; and specials like Funniest Commercials of the Year; blockbuster movies; and hosted movie showcases. TBS also presents major live events, including star-studded comedy festivals in Chicago and Las Vegas.