Tuning In: Diet Coco? Conan Embraces Diet Coke

Cola-Sponsored Online 'Warm-up Show' Suggests Host, TBS Will Be Open to New Ideas on TV as Well

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Just for the taste of it -- Diet Conan: For those curious about Conan O' Brien's new late-night talk show slated to debut next week on TBS, the comedian has posted a "warm-up show" online that he calls "Show Zero." It's not the four-minutes-and-fifty-seconds running time or the clever way the lanky comic and his crew pare the talk-show format down to one-line basics (one monologue joke, a brief exchange with a celebrity guest and a guest band that plays just a few notes from a song) that will raise eyebrows, but the methods by which the program's sponsor, Diet Coke, injects itself into the proceedings.

Diet Coke is the presenting sponsor of Conan's 'Show Zero.'
Diet Coke is the presenting sponsor of Conan's 'Show Zero.'

As the presenting sponsor of "Show Zero," found at teamcoco.com, Diet Coke naturally accompanies the program with a brief pre-roll ad and a longer post-roll. Where the popular soda appears to tread new ground is when it shows up on the table in Conan's conference room -- in the form of multiple cans strewn about Conan's desk -- and in two humorous verbal shout-outs from sidekick Andy Richter ("Diet Coke -- you should drink it. Often. And now back to you, Conan").

Look, it's nothing new to hear a late-night talk-show host do a live commercial (already done by ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, and many hosts from decades past) or even allow his staff to blend a segment into the program's general proceedings (tackled at least once by David Letterman and crew). Placing product on the table during the program -- no matter how preliminary or experimental -- does appear to suggest advertisers haven't wrung all they can out of the format.

To be sure, a web-based program has few if any "traditions" to which it must hew, which may give Mr. O' Brien the leeway he needs to use Diet Coke in a way that keeps "Show Zero" hopping and funny. Yet this close working relationship also suggests Mr. O' Brien and the folks at TBS could be open to new ideas on TV as well. Could Diet Coke show up on Conan's TV desk? Something to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, why would Coca-Cola align Diet Coke with "Show Zero" when it has a "Coke Zero" that is aimed at the young male consumers who watch Mr. O' Brien? Keep in mind Diet Coke marketing has long sought to place the drink at important pop-culture moments. We're also hearing the drink has a sizable male audience, even though Diet Coke ads often skew toward female consumers.

A few minor skirmishes: Now that News Corp. and Cablevision have settled their hash over how much the latter should pay the former for the privilege of running the Fox network and other News Corp. channels, we can all rest again, right?

But there are still a few more "retrans" fights going on, and some of them are quite notable. Comcast's G4, for instance, is no longer available on DirecTV as part of an ongoing negotiation. While G4 is no TNT or ESPN, this fight may be worth watching simply because of Comcast's pending deal to take a majority stake in NBC Universal. Does it say anything about Comcast's stance on being paid for programming or what kind of negotiator the cable giant will be when it's pushing for subscriber fees for the programming under the aegis of NBCU?

Also ongoing: Hallmark Channel has been at an impasse for weeks with AT&T's "U-verse." Hallmark is in the midst of a tall challenge: shifting its daytime schedule to programming based around Martha Stewart has not gone well, and one wonders whether AT&T's decision to drop Hallmark programming augurs the start of a tough road for this media property, which, unlike most other cable outlets, is not part of a larger family of cable networks (Viacom's MTV Networks, Time Warner's Turner, Discovery Communications, etc.).

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