Conan To "Cable" Is Really No Big Deal

The journalists who cover television are shrinking in numbers but, overall, have held their own as a group during a challenging time. Many more of them than not have worked hard to learn “the business” and can talk the talk with those of us who actually worked in it. But, with late-night host Conan O’Brien starting his new show on TBS tonight, too many TV writers have focused on a non-story.

Much has been made of O’Brien’s show moving to “cable.” “Cable” is the term that writers use to describe any channel that doesn’t broadcast over-the-air via local affiliates in a system designed for radio in the 1930s. Basically, a “cable” channel is any channel, except for Fox, that wasn’t on your TV in the 1970s.

None of this matters to Conan’s core audience of 18 to 34 year olds. Let’s use the town where I grew up (and now live) as an example. We got cable in 1985. TBS was part of the basic package then (showing lots of Andy Griffith reruns, Atlanta Braves baseball and other shows that started at :05). So the 18 year olds were still 7 years away from being born and the 34 year olds were 9 when TBS came on in my town. There aren’t many members of the core Conan audience who remember life before TBS. As one of my colleagues in that age range put it today, “TBS is just another channel.”

So while Conan on TBS may not win the “beauty contest” of carrying its time slot, it makes sense for the show’s demographic. As long as that audience, long indifferent to or literally unaware of any broadcast/cable distinction, watches – TBS and its corporate parent will make money. When we talk about “the business” – that’s really all that matters.