Team Coco was born of what might be best referred to as a media war. After all the controversy surrounding NBC’s proposed shifts in programming in early 2010 that would have moved the revered The Tonight Show with its new host Conan O’Brien back to a 12:05 timeslot and allowed the show’s previous host Jay Leno to take over his old timeslot with The Jay Leno Show, Conan walked away. Sides were taken, and it seemed that most were with Conan. So much so, in fact, that social media activism in support of O’Brien erupted on the Internet, and thus Team Coco came to be. You might remember the orange-accented I’m With Coco pictures that flew around social networking sites, many setting them as Facebook and Twitter default photos to show their support for O’Brien. The culmination of this support, which is the website Conan O’Brien Presents: Team Coco, is nominated this year for a South by Southwest Interactive Award in the Social Media category.

Leading Up to Team Coco
In order to get the best idea of how and why Team Coco came to be a movement, you need to understand the background. Here’s a quick timeline to catch you up to speed:

  • September 27, 2004: NBC announces that Conan O’Brien will succeed Jay Leno as the host of The Tonight Show in 2009.
  • May 29, 2009: Jay Leno hosts his last episode of The Tonight Show.
  • June 1, 2009: Conan O’Brien hosts his first episode of The Tonight Show.
  • September 2009: Jay Leno debuts The Jay Leno Show. Despite a strong start, ratings rapidly decline. Conan’s ratings, while considered low, still lead the 18-49 demographic. Over the next several months, NBC local news affiliates would report a decrease in viewership. Many point to Leno’s new show as being “disastrous” as a lead-in and causing a domino effect on the rest of the line-up. NBC proposed to return Leno to his 11:35 slot and push Conan back to 12:05. That would, in turn, push Conan’s successor, Jimmy Fallon, back, and possibly eliminate Carson Daly’s show altogether.
  • January 12, 2010: Conan O’Brien releases a statement saying that if NBC approves the time shift, he will no longer stay with the network.
  • January 18, 2010: Fans rally outside Universal Studios Hollywood to protest NBC’s treatment of O’Brien.
  • January 21, 2010: Conan signs $45 million deal to leave NBC. Of that, he receives $33 million with the other $12 million going to the staff. Andy Richter and Max Weinberg negotiate their own deals. Conan’s stagehands and crew members were left out of the deal, and O’Brien pays over 50 of them out-of-pocket.
  • January 22, 2010: After just over 7 months as host, Conan’s last episode of The Tonight Show airs. It brings in record ratings. In a very serious moment, Conan addresses his viewers with some poignant advice:

“All I ask of you is one thing…I ask this particularly of the young people who watch. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

Team Coco
Support for O’Brien, as acknowledged in his final speech, was widespread. Not only did fans stand up for him in rallies and other movements of support, but celebrities stood with him, too. It wasn’t long before these supporters had a name: Team Coco. Not to be undone by the series of events, Conan gave the people more of what they wanted: him. He interacted with his fans by creating a Twitter account, including a bio that famously reads, “I had a show. Then I had a different show. Now I have a Twitter account.” He used it to keep his fans apprised of announcements and events and quickly became one of the top-followed celebrities.

And then there was The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour, so named for NBC’s prohibiting him from appearing on TV until May 2010. The tour, which began in April and ran through mid-June, stood as a way for fans to get their Conan fix. On April 12, 2010 — the same day the tour kicked off — O’Brien announced that he would once more be hosting his own show — this one set to begin on November 8 on the cable station TBS.

Team Coco is really a media movement, a shower of support for a well-loved late night host. It began as a way to stand behind Conan with support during “The Late Night Battles” with rallies and events spread via social media. Conan himself, while prohibited from TV, established his presence using social media, then used it to promote his next moves. Team Coco used social media to increase the hype for his new show, to feature original and extra content, to track the bright orange CONAN blimp, even.

With his new show, Conan (which airs Monday-Thursday at 11 p.m. on TBS) in full effect, the Team Coco website is now largely a testament to his newfound success there, but the fans are still very much a presence on the site, as well.

And he was right. If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen, as he found out. For its use of social media to support and promote the phenomenon that is Conan O’Brien, Conan O’Brien Presents: Team Coco is nominated for this year’s SXSW Interactive award in the Social Media category.

Image Source: Wikipedia

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