To Hype 'Conan' on TV, Conan Takes to Web

Diet Coke to Sponsor Online 'Triple Simulcast' of Mr. O'Brien's Warm-Up

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NEW YORK ( -- Before Conan O' Brien takes to TBS to launch his new program on Nov. 8, he'll appear online to hype the new effort, in a brief video feature sponsored by Coca-Cola's Diet Coke.

Conan O' Brien
Conan O' Brien Credit: Art Streiber
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On Monday, Nov. 1, at 11 p.m., Mr. O' Brien and cohorts will stream what they call "Show Zero" in a "triple simulcast" via Mr. O' Brien's, YouTube and Facebook. The show is slated to feature celebrity guests, some parts of Mr. O' Brien's new house band and sidekick Andy Richter.

A pitch document that made the rounds of different marketers and was obtained by Advertising Age billed "Show Zero" as "Conan's warm-up show" and suggested it would feature the lanky, red-haired comedian in a less-formal setting. "Instead of revealing the set, he rehearses it in a more intimate space ... his office," read the promotional material, which humorously suggests the mini-program will boast "comically low production values." A person familiar with the situation cautioned that elements of "Show Zero" were still being finalized.

The web show's debut is the latest in a series of promotions the Time Warner cable network has unveiled to drum up attention for Mr. O' Brien's post-"Tonight Show" debut. The program's success is critical for Time Warner's Turner cable division, which has brassily demanded ad prices for the late-night program, and packages that include it, that are close to those secured by CBS and NBC for their more established late-night fare. Turner has been selling packages of ad inventory for Mr. O' Brien that could include a marketer's commercials showing up not only in the first-run broadcast of his new program but also in a repeat later the same night.

Turner has uncorked any number of hard-to-miss tactics to launch Mr. O' Brien's new show, ranging from a "Conan" blimp making appearances during TBS's coverage of post-season Major League Baseball to "Conan" signs appearing during ad breaks on the sides of the TV screen when the cable network broadcasts in high-definition.

"Show Zero" is slated to be shorter than a typical "Conan" episode.

Diet Coke, the program's exclusive sponsor, will be part of a live commercial in the show and will also be woven in to the web program's opening. A Coca-Cola spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment. According to the pitch document for "Show Zero" reviewed by Ad Age, Turner was initially seeking a price for the sponsorship package in the range of $200,000.

Generating buzz for Mr. O' Brien with web content emulates tactics many TV networks have already adopted. Jimmy Fallon used the web to work out kinks and test stage patter and show flow before launching "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon " on NBC in March of 2009. And getting die-hard fans of specific programs to embrace the shows earlier via social networks has become a key element of many TV outlets' launch plans. TBS has already run a "Live Coco Cam," a 24-hour look behind the scenes at the offices of the new "Conan" show.

Mr. O' Brien is likely to be under a great deal of scrutiny when "Conan" debuts. In one of TV's greatest controversies, he was tapped to take over NBC's flagship "Tonight" program, then ran into challenges as the network tried to keep previous (and now returned) host Jay Leno from leaving by giving him a prime-time berth at 10 p.m. five times a week. When that move backfired with affiliates and TV viewers, NBC reinstalled Mr. Leno in its late-night lineup.

Other advertisers have lent Mr. O' Brien early support. AT&T has been sponsoring some of the pre-show hype leading up to Nov. 8, including early on-air promos and the aforementioned baseball-game blimp.

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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda

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