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Conan O'Brien's post-NBC options

With Conan O'Brien's management team busy trying to figure out how to free their client from NBC with the most money and least restrictions on when he can find a new home, we thought we'd look at some of his options.

CONANCASUAL Fox is the most obvious choice, and Kevin Reilly, the network's entertainment president, has not been subtle about how much he likes O'Brien. But, as we've previously noted lots of times, the network's affiliates would be a hard sell. They already have programming in the 11 p.m. hour and while sitcom reruns may not seem sexy, they are big cash generators for local TV stations.

With Fox already trying to get affiliates to give the network a cut of any money they get from cable operators for carrying their local stations, asking for a time slot on top of it may be a reach. Fox's own TV stations may also be wary about late night for the same reason. Those reruns cost a lot of money.

Roger Ailes, the Fox News chief who also oversees the company's TV stations, said he hadn't done all the math but anticipated there would be expensive programming contracts that would have to be written off. The network could try for the 11:30 time slot, which might be an easier sell to its stations, although that would put O'Brien against Letterman and Leno.

But the idea that Conan can walk out of NBC today and pop up on Fox Monday is a little far-fetched even if NBC were to cut him loose with no restrictions on when he can go back on TV. Fox would be unlikely to pay the estimated $12 million to $15 million NBC was paying O'Brien. Wonder if they can at least cut a deal to rent O'Brien's new studio.

Having said that, of course if Fox really wants O'Brien, it will make it happen. Rupert Murdoch wanted the Wall Street Journal and got it over the concern of shareholders. Conan O'Brien would be a much easier sell.

If Fox decides to pass, ABC seems an unlikely option. Steve McPherson, that network's entertainment chief, said ABC is content with "Nightline" and Jimmy Kimmel. We're pretty sure neither the CW or Ion are looking to get into the late-night game.

So that leads us to cable. Though O'Brien's sensibilities may seem a perfect fit for HBO, the pay cable channel really isn't in the daily programming business. Having a daily show to hype would be a huge hassle even for the cash-rich HBO. Whether O'Brien would want a weekly or monthly show remains to be seen. Showtime and Starz would also be wary about getting into the daily-show business for the same reasons. And there is no way O'Brien could make the kind of money he's been making if he went to pay or commercial cable.

Comedy Central is the most obvious fit for O'Brien's sensibilities. But they have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert from 11 p.m. to midnight, and if O'Brien didn't want midnight at NBC, why would he want it on Comedy Central?

For now, it seems George Lopez is probably safe on TBS.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (79)

Leno announced his RETIREMENT about 5 years ago when they struck a deal with O'brien .. it became more intense last year when O'brien was offered hefty amounts of money to go with other networks. NBC stepped up there game to keep him and O'brien stayed loyal to NBC as it was also his dream to host the tonight show as Carson had done.
Last year Jay decides he suddenly doesn't want to retire so they bumped him to prime time which didn't pan out and viewers were switching channels before even the local news would come on ... meaning they tuned out before O'brien even came on. None of this is O'briens fault and Jay and NBC should feel ashamed of what they have done.. issue and appology and work something out to keep O'brien at the Tonight show and show that even they make mistakes but try to .. in the end .. do the right thing.

Even though I'm not up late enough to catch "late night TV" much any more - here is my 2 cents:

When you make promises - you keep them.
When you make mistakes - you admit to them.
When an apology is necessary - make it sincere.

NBC Execs: Throwing money at the situation and struggling for "damage control" are not going to give you the results you want. Apologize to Conan. Don't feel bad Leno's show bombed (you tried - it didn't work - move on). Honor everyone's contracts - you can afford it.

Conan deserves to keep his show, The Tonight Show, in it's original time slot - and everyone knows it.

Do the right thing NBC.
Johnny Carson would have wanted you to -

Rhonda Pella
Los Angeles, CA via Lincoln, NE *home of Johnny Carson*

What does NBC see in Leno….
They see $$$$$ and a much larger audience
The only people that see anything in Conan are 14 year old boys…frat boys…and elitist TV critics
1. Leno never wanted to retire
2. NBC forced the move out of leno because NBC didnt want to loose Conan at the end of his contract to another network.
3. NBC offered Leno the primetime gig so he would’t jump to another network.
4. Conan’s audience is down 52% from Jay’s audience and he is killing the timeslot by the widest margin ever in the history of that time slot
5. Jay is not asking to be moved back to 11:30, NBC wants him back there and so do the affiliates.
I do feel bad for Conan, but he is not out ANY money, this is the way show business works, jut like TV shows are canceled all the time and replaced with something new.
Again, CONAN IS NOT FUNNY ( unless you belong to one of the viewing groups listed above)

What is it with this country and ageism? It's so weird to hear that just because Leno's audience skew toward the older people that he has to retire and make way for the younger folks. Really? Let's not forget that in 20 to 30 years those younger folks will be the ones they so wanted to shove out of the way now.

Also, when leno took over the tonight show in 92, he only had a few years worth of guest hosting on the tonight show and only for one day a week too; but when conan took over the tonight show, he's had over 15 years to build up his audience...it's not like people don't know who he is...so for his tonight show to not pick up the momentum when it started just shows a failure on his part...

Don't forget how this happened. NBC TOLD Jay he was being replaced by Conan. He objected but was overridden. NBC finally decided they didn't want to loseJjay and gave him the earlier show (which he took rather than have to go to another network). Jay did not leave the Tonight show of his own choosing. NBC wants him back now. He didn't just decide to come back. It was NBC's choice.

I never thought Conan was funny or a good host. If it's Conan or nothing, nothing looks good. I'm delighted Jay is coming back but I'm bothered that no one seems to remember that he didn't want to leaved and he couldn't make the decision to come back. That was in the hands of NBC execs who at the time said they thought Conan would draw a younger crowd and more advertisers.

Jay is not the bad guy here.

Like his more graceful predecessor, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno should have left television when he left The Tonight Show. Instead, he did a daily 10 p.m. quasi-Tonight Show that failed. Now, for inexplicable reasons, NBC is trying to regroup with Leno and doesn't mind stabbing Conan in the back, or that its executives spew out highly unprofessional things about its talent. This fracas is about Leno's failure and NBC shuffling its talent so badly as to destroy The Tonight Show forever. Jack Paar, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were brilliant wits and knew when to leave. Leno does not know when to leave or that he's passé. Leno and NBC are soon to find that out; The Tonight Show audience will now be gone with Conan. Conan will show up again on television, but by then Leno will be off the air.

Living here in Massachusetts, I know of a couple of Car Dealerships looking for salespeople but Conan comes across as so disingenuous that he would probably find in hard to make a successful career out of it.
Used to love the original and highly talented Steve Allen when the late night program got started but unfortunately it has been downhill ever since: couple of milquetoast Nebraskans with no sense of humor (does anyone ever laugh in NB?), the working class, overpaid, jutting jaw whatever from Massachusetts, and than this no-talent, overgrown, clown from Brookline who could probably win the prize as the ugliest man in Major Media since the Addams Family butler or Cousin IT.
Maybe Conan can play the late night, special TV offer infomercial circuit?? Otherwise, he's a perfect match for a tee shirt hawker outside of Fenway Park

Got even a better idea: Sarah Palin, fresh, attractive, witty and a shoe in in the all male dominated world of late night TV

Wherever Conan goes, he’s in the remarkable position to be able to ask for a salary of JUST $1 from his new employer, because his NBC settlement is automatically reduced by whatever his next boss pays for the duration of the settlement period.

How much would that irk Zucker -- NBC would essentially be supporting Conan while he’s cleaning the clock of NBC affiliates during their 11 o’clock news?!

I think the main reason why O'brian didn't want the midnight slot at NBC was due to the fact that they were trying to pull him back from his current 11:30 timeslot. Also, he seemed disturbed at moving "The Tonight Show" to midnight because it has been at 11:30 for so long. So I think if he was to get a midnight deal at Comedy Central he might not be as much against it as he was on NBC. In some ways, his humor is even better really late anyway. Wherever he is I'll watch him anyway!

I don't think Conan would mind a midnight timeslot at Comedy Central since he'd have great lead-ins in Stewart and Colbert, who are also his good friends. I think he only minded it at NBC because The Tonight Show was on at 11:30 for like 60 years or something. He respects the history of that brand and didn't want to change that. Plus, Leno would have been a bad lead-in who took a lot of his viewers. The people who watch Stewart and Colbert are likely to watch Conan. My dream lineup looks like this:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The Colbert Report
The Nightly Show with Conan O'Brien

First of all, Leno AGREE to give up the Tonight Show back back in 2004. NBC Executives then decided in 2009 that they didn't want Leno to go to another network so they did a primetime show for him and called it an "experiment" that didn't work out.

Jay Leno is the biggest hypocrite saying back in 2004 that no one past the age of 60 should host the tonight show but Johnny Carson. Now he's taking back the Tonight Show and he'll be 60 this April.

He's such a fake, saying he was happy to give the show to Conan and saying how much Conan deserves it. Now he's just as happy to take it back from him? Come on, what a scumbag. You don't see Conan trying to take his late show back from Jimmy Fallon. Jay Leno is the douchebag of the year and it's only January.

boycott nbc, bunch of bastards

Maybe he should take the money and call it a day!?!

I think Conan is getting a raw deal. Leno retired and Conan got the job. Conan is a fresher comedian and his show is much much funnier than Leno. If NBC is looking toward the future Conan has at least 10-12 more years to give a solid name to that slot. Letterman can't last much longer. Who is CBS going to get to fill his slot in a few years anyway?

Keep Him on The AIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jay Leno hasn't been remotely funny since the 80's.

I used to watch David Letterman and then Conan at 12:30 all the time. I haven’t watched the Tonight Show since Johnny left. Since the late 90's I have been a huge Daily Show Fan. Since this announcement was made I have watched The Tonight Show every night and I plan watch it all next week and then that’s it. I don’t hate Jay Leno but I sure don’t find him funny. Beside's the show's Thursday night and SNL I cant think of anything I watch on NBC.


PASS THIS CLIP AROUND - Jay willingly gave the show to Conan in 2004, now he connives to get it back. Show everyone what scum Leno is!

Another example of America in it's transition. We have the red state, old fart, undereducated Leno crowd on one side vs the progressive 25-40 demographic that's trying to bring America into the 21st century.
Leno is old and simple, with familiar material. Some people just liked to be calmed into their narrow minded comas.

conan o'brien is so much funnier than jay leno. i have never laughed at an interview conducted by leno, and conan can make any guess seem funny. the best episodes of the simpsons were done by o'brien and the show has become increasingly stupid since he left. maybe he should go back to writing for the simpsons so he can save my once beloved show from the idiots writing it now. i will never watch nbc late night again once conan is gone.

NBC kind of did the same thing to Letterman when NBC gave Leno the show so after next week I think I will switch back to The Late Show with David Letterman. I use to love Late Night with Conan O'Brien. When Conan moved to The Tonight show he had to tune down his humor a bit so it would fit the time slot. I think Conan was making the transition to the early slot and would have been just fine if the network could have just given him some time. The Jay Leno show was too much for me. Truth be told I never really was a big fan of Leno but I don’t hate the guy. I know a lot of people seem to be blaming him right now but for me I just never found his style of humor funny. I think NBC should have just moved Leno to Thursday night at 10:00 only and increased his budget just a bit. This would have given Leno a full week with his writers to come up with a show that would fit with the rest of NBC's Thursday night line up and might have actually been funny. One thing is for sure I am one of those people that think NBC more then anyone screwed this up. I absolutely hated the way they treated Letterman and what they are doing to Conan as well.

I agree with "richard b." When Conan hosted his own show at 12:35, I honestly tried to watch him. I couldn't. His schtick isn't funny. Conan comes across like an elementary school boy playing pranks vying for the teacher's attention. I'm still relatively young, in my 30's, and Conan doesn't appeal to me. Jay does and I will be one of the millions of viewers joining in a standing ovation for him the night he returns to The Tonight Show. A show he never should have been talked into leaving.

George Lopez, by the way, is hilarious. Another late night guy funnier than Conan.

I've been a Conan fan from the beginning, but I never thought he would be right for The Tonight Show. Conan realized it too, which is why he made an attempt to tone down his humor for the earlier timeslot.

For months, this was one of the most common observations/criticisms about Conan's Tonight Show- especially online. It's too bad all this current concern and support didn't exist for him last year, or even as recently as two weeks ago. If it had, NBC wouldn't have even considered dumping him and bringing back Jay.

But the fact is, such support didn't exist. "Team Coco" obviously wasn't tuning in all those months when Conan was struggling in the ratings. I realize it's popular to blame various factors like "he didn't have enough time" or "the primetime schedule was weak", but those factors are having zero impact on the current ratings. This just proves that if people had actually tuned in before, that's all Conan would've needed to keep the show #1 in late night.

The bottom line is that Conan didn't connect with longtime Tonight Show viewers, and managed to alienate some of his own Late Night audience by trying to appeal to both groups. He would've eventually found the right balance, but the network simply couldn't afford to wait another year or two. This is why Jay's return- as backstabbing as it appears- isn't being regarded as another huge programming error in the media. Most people seem to realize that Conan wasn't working out, even as they agree he got a raw deal from the network.

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