It doesn't look good for the Conan experiment on TBS, where the network is paying the host more than $12 million a year to bring his talents to basic cable. In the month of July, Conan's viewership hovered at just under a million viewers a night, a number that's far off the 2.4 million that tuned into his premiere last year, and, what's worse, below even The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. He apparently even manages to lose out on occasion to Chelsea Lately, of all people.
This news is all courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, which notes that TBS is about to start spending even more extravagantly to keep Conan afloat, paying upwards of $2 million an episode for the rights to broadcast reruns of The Big Bang Theory as a lead-in to Conan's show. It's hard to blame Conan himself for any of this, since the ratings for late-night shows often depend on their lead-ins and what primetime promotions they get on their network; how many times do you see bumpers for Leno on NBC primetime shows, after all? Without a strong lineup to give Conan the promotional backing he needs, it's no mystery that he'll have a hard time living up to ratings expectations that have been raised for him.
TBS, predictably enough, is coming to Conan's defense, saying that his audience is very young compared to other late-night hosts, and is thus worth more to advertisers. They also point out that many of his viewers catch his show online, where their eyeballs are not counted in the ratings. Still, they can't be precisely happy with those ratings at this point, especially when they're paying Conan more than he received on NBC for the privilege of airing his show. He'll be guaranteed to keep airing until the end of 2012, but if the ship hasn't turned around by then, it'll be curious to see what decisions TBS has to make.