REDDIN: Conan triumphant

By the time you read this, the most lovable ginger in America has made his triumphant return to television.

I mean, besides Carrot Top. Obviously.

Yes, loyal readers and people who accidentally turned to this page looking for the Sudoku puzzles, Conan O’Brien is back on television.

For those of you just tuning in, O’Brien, who hosted NBC’s “Late Night” for sixteen years, went off the air earlier this year after a highly publicized feud over the prestigious “Tonight Show,” which he inherited from Jay Leno in 2009. Leno was supposed to retire after giving up the show, but instead was granted his own comedy show the hour before, a decision which led to mass ratings hemorrhaging for both shows.

After seven months, NBC acknowledged that Leno’s show wasn’t working at its time slot, 10 p.m. EST, and decided to move it up to 11:35, which would have moved O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” to 12:05 — aka tomorrow. O’Brien refused, setting off a chain of events which led to his severance from NBC and hiring at basic cable network TBS, where he now hosts the appropriately named “Conan” at 11 p.m. EST.

With his new network comes new challenges. Being on cable allows him to bring back some of the sketches deemed too risqué for 11:35 (amongst them his infamous Masturbating Bear), but it also doesn’t save him from a problem he already struggled with on “The Tonight Show”: demographics.

Both on the “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show,” O’Brien appealed to young viewers far more than he ever did older audiences, a trend only magnified by his use of social media like Twitter in the months of his exile.

But some wonder whether that young audience will stay tuned in now that he’s on TBS, or — perhaps more importantly — whether they will watch on air or online, a choice that will impact the ratings that got O’Brien bounced from NBC in the first place.

Well, I’m not one of them. In fact, I think his audience might be what keeps Conan afloat.

Yes, the move to TBS will certainly have its problems for O’Brien. But I don’t think those small problems ahead can stand up to the tidal wave of affection that has come before it.

In his struggle to preserve the integrity of “The Tonight Show,” even if doing so meant he could no longer be its host, O’Brien earned a reputation as the consummate gentleman in the feud.

And when O’Brien broke from NBC, the members of the online monolith known as “Team Coco” did too. I remember reading through comments on “Team Coco” groups and being surprised by how many people not only rejected NBC’s actions in pushing “The Tonight Show” back, but how many were glad O’Brien was going to be free of NBC’s influence.

And that’s why I think he’ll succeed. Because in taking a stand against NBC, O’Brien established a grassroots cult of personality that transcends network.

In a gag on Monday’s premiere, comedian Ricky Gervais filmed a congratulatory message for O’Brien, wishing him well on TBS. Then, just to be safe, he filmed a few more wishing him luck on the Food Network, “Good Morning, Dayton” and satellite radio.

It’s a funny joke, but what’s completely serious is the fact that even if O’Brien does fall all the way to satellite radio, Team Coco will fall right along with him.

One day, Leno will finally have to retire and NBC will have to find someone who measures up to the legacy of “The Tonight Show,” not the legacy of Jay Leno.

But in carving out a new niche away from NBC, O’Brien has recreated himself as a comedian, becoming  just Conan and not (The Tonight Show with) Conan O’Brien.

And when he steps down, there’s no replacing him.