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George Lopez welcomes Conan O’Brien into TBS fold

George Lopez wants everyone to know he has not been “Leno-ed.”

Unlike the bitter acrimony that enveloped late night television earlier this year as Jay Leno reclaimed his old seat as host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” Lopez welcomed Conan O’Brien to the cable channel, which in a surprise move announced Monday that the tall, red-headed comedian will launch his own late night program for them in November.

In an ironic turn, O’Brien’s arrival to the cable channel’s late night lineup means that Lopez has to push his still nascent 11 p.m. show, “Lopez Tonight,” to midnight. It was less than three months ago that O’Brien was dropped from NBC altogether after he refused to move his show to a later time to accommodate Leno.

“I don’t feel like I’m moving for the ‘red man,’ ” Lopez said, laughing during a phone interview on Tuesday with The Times. “It’s a partnership that works. I don’t mind following Conan. I’ve only been at 11 for five months and it will be a year when Conan comes … I think it is an aggressive move that puts TBS, with Conan and I, above what is happening on late-night right now, which is a little bit stagnant now.”

Since departing from NBC, most media outlets predicted O’Brien would land at Fox, the only major network without a weeknight talk show. But Steven Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, was undeterred by the speculation and pursued Conan — making sure to include Lopez in the process.

Last Wednesday, Koonin flew to Burbank to meet with Lopez and told the comedian if the deal was going to happen, it needed to be quick and with his support.

“I’m in the George Lopez business,” Lopez said. “I believe that Conan O’Brien coming to TBS is good for my business. And not only good for my business in November, but good for my business between now and November, and when Conan gets there and into the future.”

Lopez said the plan made sense to him. Between O’Brien’s appeal to a young audience and Lopez’s momentum, he saw a win-win situation.

“I thought that since I already have a younger demographic, with a smaller audience — I’ve only been on five months — it would be a perfect match … that not only can succeed but be on TV for a long time and make TBS a true destination in late-night, which would take it away completely from the [broadcast] networks,” Lopez said.

Koonin asked Lopez to speak to O’Brien. The two comedians spoke last Wednesday afternoon and again on Sunday. Lopez told O’Brien that TBS would be a great venue for him and that he wouldn’t have to worry about interference from studios or affiliates.

“It was very important to Conan that he felt that he wasn’t doing to me what was done to him and I said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not that type of person and I completely welcome you and hope that we would do things together to promote each other’s show,’ ” Lopez said. “That’s something that doesn’t exist now — an integrated [effort], two guys that get along that have different approaches to comedy that are with the same network that want to do things together. Without naming hosts, there’s one guy that’s an island to himself, who has alienated everyone that he’s ever really contacted. That’s not me.”

Moving his show to midnight doesn’t concern Lopez because he’s seen David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel succeed at that hour or later.

“Conan’s a great lead-in,” Lopez said. “He has a supportive following and I believe that our two shows together are much more powerful than myself alone. Let’s say Conan did go to Fox. I would be up against Conan, stretching it out even further. So now I have him in my corner.”

maria.elena.fernandez@latimes.com


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