By Wayne Friedman
"There's like a pirate ship feeling to this show." Conan O'Brien says his TBS show isn't at all "The Tonight Show" -- but more like a program on the high seas, looking for treasure. Maybe that's what more TV shows should feel like.
That makes sense. Who really wanted to play it safe? What you don't want is for critics to end up saying stuff like: "Well, your sci-fi adventure show seems somewhat like 'Lost.'"
Despite most of what the media has reported, TBS pretty much had estimated that "Conan" would be doing about his current numbers -- around a million and a half for 18-49-year-old viewers; about a million for the 18-34 audience. TBS executives say at this rate the network can easily continue to do the show for as long as O'Brien wants.
But a million and a half 18-49 viewers isn't exactly a hijacking of the late night broadcast network audience, throwing them in the brig. Not much like pirates; more like salespeople pulling people off sidewalks to push them to buy luggage and electronics they don't want.
Still, I'm all for pirate-feeling TV (not pirated TV). The best TV should feel like it rebels against something -- a three-camera traditional sitcom, a less-than-original crime procedural show, a wannabe reality talent competition show.
O'Brien, of course, seems to be talking more about how the crew probably has been responding -- in addition to those still-happy, rebellious in-studio fans who are chanting: "Conan! Conan!"
On a pirate ship, there is loyalty -- something, no doubt, TBS is using to sell to advertisers. Any loyalty quotient when it comes to content and on-air personalities is always looked at as being transferable to marketers who sponsor television.
TBS notes that "Conan" has a very high DVR rate -- all this in keeping with its prized young-skewing audience. So playing it back, stealing away time from other safe TV programming, looks valuable.
Still, all this makes for a small pirate ship.