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Fox: We love Conan, but it's his decision

January 11, 2010 |  2:17 pm

Conan O'Brien, caught in NBC's late night shuffle, found a little encouragement this afternoon -- from rival network Fox.

NBC yesterday officially announced that it was pulling the plug on the prime-time "Jay Leno Show" after just four months, and would shift the comedian back to his long-time perch at 11:35 p.m. in March, after the Winter Olympics.  Although Leno has signed off on the time-period switch, the other person involved -- O'Brien -- hasn't agreed yet.

O'Brien took over the storied "Tonight Show" last June when Leno stepped down to prepare for his prime-time show, which launched in September.  NBC Universal's television chairman, Jeff Gaspin, said Sunday that NBC wants O'Brien to remain part of the network's late-night schedule but, if O'Brien agreed to stay at NBC, the new start time for his "Tonight Show" would be 30 minutes later -- at 12:05 a.m.

Fox has long been interested in having a late-night comedy show and it expressed interest in O'Brien in 2004 when NBC hatched the plan to give O'Brien "The Tonight Show" in 2009 and move Leno out.

So there has been plenty of speculation, during the last few days, that the News Corp.-owned network would like to bring O'Brien and his wry humor into its fold.

Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said the network was indeed interested, but it was too soon to say whether anything would happen.

"We are kind of digesting it a little bit, the same way you are. We are sort of in the 'wow-ee' mode right now," said Reilly, who used to head entertainment at NBC before joining Fox. "I love Conan personally and professionally, but right now he's got a decision to make on his future. Until he makes that decision there really is no conversation to be had. We have not pursued it."

Of course, that doesn't mean there hasn't been some communication among the parties

Reilly said that Fox executives have discussed scenarios with O'Brien's representatives, calling it "informal conversations," including commiserating about the situation at NBC.  "But beyond that we are not free to talk about any other business proposition that we might have," Reilly said.

NBC expects O'Brien to reach a decision on whether he wants to stay at NBC in the coming days.

-- Meg James

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Dana Edelson / NBC