Following news that the ratings starved “Lopez Tonight” helmed by comedian George Lopez was given the ax on Wednesday, staffers at TBS’s other nightly talk show, “Conan,” starring Conan O’Brien, couldn’t help but wonder if they were next.
Show staffers told Fox411 that O’Brien and his writers weren’t even sure if they should address the controversy on his Wednesday evening show for fear that bringing attention to the cancellation would put them under the microscope. Staffers said much debate was made over whether to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
O’Brien opted to keep the Lopez cancellation out of his opening monologue and instead made sure to assert his place in the late night pantheon by reminding the audience that this was his 3,000th show since he began hosting “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in 1993.
After his first commercial break, he switched to a serious tone and sent his condolences to Lopez and his staff.
“Had it not been for George being so incredibly supportive of me I would not have come to TBS,” O’Brien said. "It makes me really sad that TBS and George could not work this out….so tonight all of our thoughts are with George and his staff and his crew.”
A spokesman for “Conan” told Fox411 that he was unable to answer the question about whether their show was in increased danger of being next on the chopping block, and referred us to the network.
TBS vehemently shot down the idea that “Conan” would be next to go, saying that any cancellation rumors were not true, and that O'Brien’s ratings were not similar to those experienced by Lopez's show.
But while the numbers may not be the same, the audience erosion is.
Since moving from the 10 p.m. time slot, Lopez’s total viewership dropped from 910,000 to 543,000. It dropped further to 391,000 this month.
In contrast "Conan" has averaged a little over 1 million viewers for this season and has averaged 709,000 this month. But that’s down from the show’s debut of 2 million viewers.
Industry insiders say that Conan O'Brien is now most definitely in a precarious position.
“Both 'Conan' and 'Lopez' have suffered audience erosion over the past several months,” said Brad Adgate, media analyst at Horizon Media. “Conan’s numbers are down more than half since the show debuted. I think there should be a definite concern there.”
Adgate noted that the TBS late night space is a grave yard for failed comic variety fare, citing comedian Frank Caliendo’s "Frank TV," which gave late night comedy a try on the network from 2007 to 2009 before facing cancellation..
“On TBS you just don’t get the huge numbers you do on broadcast. The one thing 'Lopez' and 'Conan' had was a median age was in the early thirties and that is desirable, but the bad news is they didn’t have the huge numbers they were hoping for,” Adgate said.
Lopez surrendered his original 10 pm time slot to the red-haired fan favorite back in November after O’Brien left NBC’s “Tonight Show” following a timeslot dispute with Jay Leno. The theory behind the move was that with a popular lead-in Lopez could actually do better in the later slot.
Right now, TBS seems to be in O'Brien’s corner, but with how suddenly the "Lopez" decision came on, no one at "Conan" will be sleeping easy unless they see ratings rise.
Following the abrupt TBS decision, the last episode of “Lopez Tonight” will air Thursday night.