Funny geek Conan O’Brien bucked convention when he picked cable network TBS over Fox as the launchpad for his new talk show, which will debut in November. But apparently, Conan may have seriously considering bucking TV altogether: Deadline Hollywood Daily reports that he was in talks with Microsoft to make a show for XBox.
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 Ziffren Brittenham attorney Sam Fischer), 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. [emphasis added]
There’s a lot to be said for the TBS deal: Whereas Fox’s affiliated local stations were reluctant to give up prebought reruns for Conan — and Fox has a nasty history of canceling good programming — TBS “agreed quickly to almost every request” from Conan’s camp, and the network has a fairly young audience to boot. And it can’t hurt that Conan will get a reported eight figures for his troubles.
At that: Think of all of the positive effects a Conan talk show exclusively for the XBox would have had on the industry as a whole.
Not long after the news of Conan’s falling out with NBC became national news in January, Ryan Vance, the VP of Programming and Production for Internet TV startup Revision3, published a much-Dugg open letter offering Conan a slot with the network.
Though some dismissed the letter as a publicity stunt, Rev3 CEO Jim Louderback wrote a column later that day avowing that the offer was very much real, that they were willing to give Conan “a substantial ownership stake” in the company, and that a deal with Rev3 would give Conan “a worldwide audience, and a seat at the table at the next big media company, sitting at the epicenter of the biggest media transition the world has ever seen.” Despite a brief Twitter hoax to the contrary, Conan obviously did not take him up on his offer.
As farfetched as Revision3’s offer may have seemed to old media types, Vance and Louderback made some good points, the best of which may have been the demographic: Conan is liked by young folk, young folk are moving away from TV and towards the Internet, and you may as well catch them where they’re headed as online audience sizes and ad shares continue to expand. ‘Course, even when dealing with a saintly figure like Conan who is immune to normal human wants and urges, it may be a bit cheeky to make an offer which consists of little beyond creative freedom and a fraction of an as-yet-unprofitable web startup.
With Microsoft at its back, a Conan show for XBox Live may have been newfangled in its medium, but it could have had the stature — and the money — that a Rev3 show would have lacked. Microsoft has been inching its way into original programming for XBox Live for some time now, and has done some pretty neat stuff integrating gaming and TV watching on XBox Live, as with 1 vs. 100.
A Conan show on XBox Live — preferably an interactive Conan show, with live discussions among Conan diehards, and interactive features, a la 1 vs. 100, taking advantage of the fact that everyone has these controllers in front of them — could have been an exciting opportunity for Microsoft to establish itself as a serious and innovative player in the content biz, and for O’Brien to apply his purported youthfulness and edginess not only to masturbating bear jokes, but to transforming the industry as only a spurned, daring A-lister can. Whatever the fallout of a Conan show on XBox Live — even if the money just wasn’t there yet, or the “real” late night hosts made fun of him for it — it would force the grown-ups to seriously consider investing resources in shows for gaming consoles and for the web in a way that the likes of Rocketboom and Diggnation just can’t currently, whatever their successes.
Bonus: Conan wouldn’t have had to compete with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, as he will in his 11pm-12am timeslot on TBS.
For reasons unknown from Deadline’s tantalizing snippet, Conan discussed the groundbreaking path with Microsoft, but didn’t take it: Maybe it blew up over money, or production, or the limited reach his show would have if it was shown exclusively on the #2 console in the US, with only 20 million units sold in its lifetime. Maybe the discussions were serious, maybe they weren’t. It’s cool that they happened at all. But it would have been cooler if he had pulled the trigger on an XBox Live show, both from a spectator’s perspective and for the thrill of what might have been, just to see what’d happen.