Yes, you’ve probably heard. Yes, it’s true. No, I don’t think anyone saw it coming.
Just for the heck of it, I did a Google News search and found there wasn’t a single mention of TBS in connection with “Conan O’Brien” in the last few weeks. It was all “Fox” this, and “Fox” that. Only now are we learning that the Fox deal didn’t look like it was going to work (we’ll learn more about why, but “affiliates didn’t want to give up an extra hour” seems like the obvious explanation), and O’Brien entered into talks with TBS instead. Maybe if I go back farther I could find someone, somewhere, saying something about TBS looking for someone to bump George Lopez. (What is happening to Lopez, of course, is what NBC originally wanted to do to O’Brien: bump him to a later time slot. And Lopez was doing quite well for the network.) But it’s definitely a brilliant cover-up feat on the part of the host and the network; you wouldn’t think these things could be kept secret this long in the internet era, but they did it.
Update: The L.A. Times has more on why Fox didn’t happen. In short, the network heads wanted Conan, but the affiliates were a tougher sell. And Kim Masters has more from O’Brien’s terrifying super-agent Gavin Polone.
This is also, obviously, O’Brien making a decision about what kind of host he is and what kind of audience he’s looking for. By going to basic cable and doing a show four nights a week, he’s openly saying that he’s not the equivalent of Leno or Letterman, but of Stewart and Colbert: they’re the ones he’ll be competing with directly, and it’s their audience he’ll be trying to cut into. It’ll be interesting to see how his absurdist humour does against their political humour; though they have a lot in common, their approaches are different, and it’ll be a fun test to see which the audience prefers.