What will Conan O'Brien do?
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - January 11, 2010 -- Television's late-night drama now shifts to Conan O'Brien's state of mind: Would he be happy to again have the after-midnight spot on NBC or could he find a comfortable home at Fox an hour earlier?
O'Brien's decision is key to whether NBC's fragile compromise plan to mollify angry affiliates and return Jay Leno to his old 11:35 p.m. time slot will work. NBC confirmed it wants Leno to do a half hour show, with O'Brien to follow at 12:05 a.m. EST under the "Tonight" show banner.
Fox, whose executives meet with reporters Monday to talk about the issue, has expressed some interest in O'Brien and could offer him a show that starts at 11 p.m. EST.
O'Brien had waited five years after being promised the "Tonight" show and its time slot after the late local news, moving his family and staff from New York to California. That chance lasted half a year. A spokeswoman for O'Brien did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday.
NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin said he had given Leno, O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon (whose show would start at 1:05 a.m.) the weekend to think about the plan.
"I would love the three of them to stay at NBC," Gaspin said.
Gaspin said he was forced to make the move because Leno's low ratings at 10 p.m. were subsequently hurting the ratings of local affiliates for their late news, costing significant advertising revenue. Some were even threatening to take Leno's show off the air and run their own programming.
O'Brien's run at "Tonight" hasn't been particularly successful. NBC's ratings have dropped dramatically since the time Leno was the host, and O'Brien has fallen behind CBS' David Letterman. NBC has said it was satisfied because O'Brien was doing fairly well among a youthful audience that is more valuable to advertisers.
Fox could potentially offer an 11 p.m. time slot, giving O'Brien the jump on both Leno and Letterman.
That's where Arsenio Hall thrived - briefly - with a syndicated talk show that aired mostly on Fox stations from 1989 to 1994. Other Fox attempts to establish a late-night beachhead with Joan Rivers and Chevy Chase failed spectacularly. In O'Brien's favor: He attracts a younger audience, which Fox seeks.
Fox would likely have to persuade its local affiliates to give the network an 11 p.m. slot. The affiliates are now in control of that hour and all its advertising revenue, and many do fairly well in the ratings with reruns of old sitcoms.
There would also have to be complicated contractual issues worked out with NBC.
To many, it had seemed a given that Leno would leave NBC for ABC or Fox when his time on "Tonight" ended, but he decided to stay with the company and try the 10 p.m. idea. ABC has indicated a lack of interest in O'Brien.
NBC's proposal would also shift its new talk show host, Fallon, to an hour best known for insomniacs, and put him a half-hour behind chief competitor Craig Ferguson on CBS. Gaspin tried to play it Sunday as a creative plus.
"It allows him to be incredibly experimental and do what he wants to do," Gaspin said. "There will be a lot less pressure on him."
The plan would also likely mark the end of Carson Daly's late-night show. Gaspin said he expected Daly to stay with NBC in some fashion.
jay leno, nbc, entertainment
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