TBS’s George Lopez late-night show Lopez Tonight has just two more tomorrows left: The network just announced it’s canceled the low-rated talker after two seasons and its final broadcast will be Thursday. A network spokesman called the move a “difficult decision,” but really, it shouldn’t have been: Ratings for Lopez were awful. How bad? So bad that reruns of nineties sitcoms on teeny-tiny Teen Nick drew nearly twice as many viewers as Lopez in key demos a few weeks ago (Lopez generally hovers around 250,000 viewers in the adults 18 to 49 demo TBS targets). Of course, Lopez didn’t get much help from his lead-in, Conan, which has also been turning in soft ratings (around 700,000 adults 18 to 49 viewers, not counting DVR viewership and repeats). So did Coco kill Lopez by pushing him out of the marquee 11 p.m. slot?
Hardly. Fact is, while some pundits tried to spin Conan O’Brien’s bumping of Lopez Tonight to midnight a little under a year ago as a demotion for Lopez, if anything, it was a life preserver. Lopez Tonight was turning in mediocre numbers when it aired at 11 p.m. and its renewal for a season two was hardly assured before O’Brien entered the picture. It’s possible TBS might have given the show another season — it costs less to produce that O’Brien’s show — but, most likely, Lopez would’ve almost certainly ended up where it is today: canceled.
As for O’Brien, today’s Lopez news will likely turn a renewed spotlight on his ratings, which have undeniably faded in recent months as the media buzz over his move to cable has worn off. Rivals such as Comedy Central have been unrelenting in their attack on O’Brien, issuing press releases randomly calling out Coco’s numbers in a bid to point out the show isn’t doing that well. But two points of defense here for O’Brien. First, his TBS lead-ins have been pretty dreadful. (Quick: Name an original series you watch on TBS. Didn’t think so.) Secondly, it was a given the ratings for Conan would drift downward as the novelty of a big-time network star on cable died down. The challenge now for O’Brien, his producers and TBS is to find a way to generate buzz and excitement around the show, in order to remind folks he’s still slinging laughs at 11 p.m. Might we suggest enlisting Justin Timberlake to team up with Coco for a history of Irish drinking songs?