Conan O'Brien's run as late-night TV's elder statesman will end next June, when TBS will officially pull the plug on "Conan," WarnerMedia announced Tuesday. Variety, which first reported the announcement, said O'Brien, 57, will launch a weekly "variety series" on streaming service HBO Max at that time.
In a statement, O'Brien said — or rather quipped — "In 1993 [late-night TV icon] Johnny Carson gave me the best advice of my career: ‘As soon as possible, get to a streaming platform.' I’m thrilled that I get to continue doing whatever the hell it is I do on HBO Max, and I look forward to a free subscription."
To say the June wrap marks the end of an era is not quite right because it will, in fact, mark the end of a few eras, spanning nearly three decades. In 1993, the former "Saturday Night Live"/"The Simpsons" writer was tapped to replace David Letterman on "Late Night," and then, in 2009, replaced Jay Leno on "Tonight."
The move to "The Tonight Show" was sealed years earlier by former NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker (now CNN president), who sought to keep O'Brien from jumping to other networks. It was also ill-fated, with O'Brien lasting barely a year before Leno was brought back. After some time off, O'Brien returned to late night in November 2010 at TBS — a fortuitous match for both network and host, albeit a somewhat diminished role for O'Brien.
In time, that seemed not to matter: "Conan" was a critical success in a crowded field as O'Brien carved out a niche based on a style most easily described as "Conanesque" — droll, self-deprecating and adventurous. His overseas trips with the show — including to Cuba (2015), Korea (2016), Haiti (2018) and Ghana (2019) — were hits in their own right. Those travel specials ("Conan without Borders") will continue on TBS.
Nevertheless, in 2018, O'Brien and TBS put the show on ice, while both figured out its future. Hiatuses are rarely a good sign, and when "Conan" returned in early 2019, it would be without his long-running band, Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band. Since the pandemic shutdown, O'Brien has continued his show virtually (and on Nov. 10 had his first in-person guest, John C. Reilly).