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Fox throws a little gasoline on the Conan O'Brien fire

Fox, never one to miss an opportunity to make a competitor's life more difficult, has indicated that if Conan O'Brien wants to leave NBC, it would be happy to talk.

CONANO O'Brien, who is being asked to move "The Tonight Show" from 11:35 p.m. to 12:05 a.m. to make room for Jay Leno's return to late night, has not made up his mind on whether he'll take one for the team or take a walk. Leno's moving back to late night because NBC affiliates are beyond frustrated with his 10 p.m. show and what its ratings are doing to their late local news.

Of course, Fox has toyed with late night before (Chevy Chase, anyone?), but quietly telling inquiring reporters that "Conan would be a great fit for Fox" could be just as much about annoying NBC chiefs Jeff Zucker and Jeff Gaspin as it is about trying to start its own late-night franchise.

Fox couldn't just jump into the late-night game. It would have to ask, and in some cases beg, its affiliates for the time to carry a late show. The stations won't hand over that time just out of the goodness of their hearts. Furthermore, Fox is already asking (or is it demanding?) that its affiliates give it a cut of any money they get from cable operators for carrying their signals. The logic is that because Fox provides the affiliates with programming, it should get a cut of any money distributors pay them to carry the signal.

While Fox is spinning one thing, it is unclear whether the brass at its parent company News Corp. are really that interested in getting into this game. It's true the network made a run at Conan six years ago (a move that led NBC to anoint Conan as Jay Leno's eventual successor, which led NBC to put Leno in prime time, which led to the mess NBC currently finds itself in), but the company may have different priorities now.

If Fox does seriously go after O'Brien, it won't be cheap. Yes, NBC may have big penalties to pay O'Brien  if he were to be bounced from "The Tonight Show." But right now NBC is only talking about bouncing O'Brien out of his time slot, not the show (so tricky!). NBC could even bench O'Brien for a couple of years if he does want to leave, although it would be more likely to try to extract big payment from whoever wants his services.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (71)

Craig Ferguson is better than both put together...

Conan is the very worst. Fox is so much better than this. Conan won't attract worthwhile watchers. They hate Fox. And Fox watchers hate Conan (the borebarian). It will ultimately LOSE Fox watchers. No... really! We stopped watching NBC for a reason. CONAN is that reason!

You can say what you want about who it is you like, but NBC should stick with Conan. They gave him The Tonight Show and that's that. It's only a matter of time for Conan to dominate. Waffling like this reminds me some of the Democrats out there now- losers. Don't be a bigger loser than you are right now NBC!

NBC must be really regretting this got out. There is no way they can come out of this on top

Hey Dave, only a whack job right wing republican would try to make the NBC, Leno, O'Brien situation a political story. Go watch your hypocritical, lie filled, paranoid network Fox News, drink your kool-aid, watch your tivo'd programming of Hannity and Beck over and over then please crawl back under the tea bag rock you came from.

Ginger Power! = http://bit.ly/7W5qu9

NBC: FAIL. Conan should move to Fox. And NBC should have canned Zucker eons ago - what a loser. Comcast is just getting a taste of things to come. LOL

Dirty Dawg Network, D/B/A FOX, led by their junkyard dawg King Rufurt Murkdog, cheap cigar stub stuck in one corner of his mouth, old bone stubbornly clenched in his teeth, puffing away like the blowhard he is and growling as if he would let the cigar or bone go to actually bite something (he can bite something all right) has fizzled like a wet match. Considering that the real funnymen are on HBO and SHO, its amazing NanderLeno, Cronan O'Magnon, and that used-shoe salesman Leatherman are still filling the room with their predicatable drones and tones and tedious oratory drivel. Did you hear the one about the three late night hosts? Oh, only 4,000 times already? Let me tell you somethzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Hey Russell, you stopped watching NBC because of one guy on at 11:35 at night? You crack me up. Let me guess, you're a Fox News junkie and live by the words of Hannity, Beck and O'Riley. They told you that NBC is evil and that you need to stay away from that network at all cost.

I think the real troublemaker here is Jay Leno. Wasn't it he who set this cannon ball in motion by announcing his intended retirement a few years ago and then changing his mind? It's not like any of this behavior is new territory for Leno - he pushed out Carson, he screwed over Letterman and now it's Conan's turn. What a douche.

For me, both Leno and O'Brien are mildly humorous, but lightweight compared to the hosts in the days of yore. Carson was lightweight in his own way too---who couldn't avoid be a little thin when on nightly---but he had an intangible the others couldn't match: charm, likability, a normal guy from Nebraska-thing. The execs at NBC---it's laughable and it's typical. There are a lot of us who could make better decsions about how to run the programming than the people being overpaid to make them now. The point was made: of course O'Brien viewership is hurt by splitting his audience w/ Leno's. I like Leno, but America would survive if he retired from nightly TV. Hey, ,NBC, give us a show that has spontaneity. Carson would keep a guest on if the guest was "on a roll." A band or singer didn't come out at the end of the show---I've always hated that. If a band or singer brought the house down---they sang more! It was a lot more fun than all the pre-packaged stuff. And Letterman? HOw can anyone watch that insufferable person?

people need to know how this mess started in the first place. it was contract time and Conan - who was never a stand-up, but rather a comedy writer, most notably for The Simpsons - was starting to kick up dust about being Leno's poor step-brother relegated to the 12:30 am slot. instead of allowing him to bolt, NBC devised this five-year, Jay-will-retire plan and hand Conan the reins to the TONIGHT SHOW. my sources say Leno never wanted to go, but was basically being forced out of his chair by Zucker, who thought that younger viewers would tune in to see Conan at the helm of TONIGHT, just like they did at his later slot.

they didn't. end of story. quick blaming Leno for "unretiring". he and Conan were both doing great in the ratings in their previous slots.

and btw, Craig Ferguson is funnier than either of them, but the TONIGHT SHOW has always been a safe haven for us aging folks who don't find masturbating bears that hilarious.

Does Leno have different writers now than he had with the Tonight Show? I've watched it a few times, but it seems like it's not put together nearly as well as it was with the Tonight Show.

I'm deeply concerned that of all the discussions of Jay and NBC in print, online, on the radio and on TV, not once have I heard any moral objections. The idea of local television news being a cash cow is despicable. People speak of local news programs making money as if they're blockbuster movies.

I bet this ends with the anti-climactic cancellation of Leno, Conan staying at 11:35, and the ousting of at least one NBC exec.

Conan. Have you lost your mind??

Half the country have lost their jobs and you get how many Millions to tell jokes. Okay, I'm not a fan, but geez who is giving you career advice, Shelley Long.

Suck it up. 11:35 or 12:05 - is it really worth risking everything over 30 minutes? One more flop you'll have no more bargaining power. Letterman is already winning in the ratings. You think you can win going head to head with him and Leno. Personally, I'm happy to have Leno back in his old spot. For your sake, I hope you have a good Plan B, because this (my humble opinion) was a dumb move.

I think, regardless of which host you support, only Conan has handled himself with any semblance of dignity. Leno's pot-shots on his show towards NBC were immature and tactless.

I dont get it. Why did they keep Jay Leno in the first place?
He´s kind, is a dying breed of people, who has to read mem-cards to remeber jokes. Barbara Bush laughs at his jokes...

Conan obrien is funny, or funniest when he improvises (a skill Jay lacks for sure!). I think I could talk for my generation (i am 21), that we find Conan´s humuor funnier. Conan loves what he does, and if NBC bets on him they will win borth in the short and long run i think.

Make sure you put Conan on the same time slot as Jack A Leno. Bad NBC

I think it's moronic for NBC to try to bump Conan O'Brien, who is MUCH funnier than Jay Leno, back to a later time. I do understand Leno's legacy, but they should have had him move on because his new show sucks, instead of continuing his show that as another commenter wrote- splits the viewership.

Saying that you think Leno is funnier than O'Brien is essentially saying "I love stupid, predictable, one line jokes". O'Brien's content is more original, and between his skits and facial expressions, he's the best late night host in a long time.

NBC backed the wrong guy here and is earning themselves nothing but bad press, G.E. needs to start cutting executives immediately.

Conan O'brien is the single biggest loss that commercial television has faced in recent history. Conan is way funnier, has a more youthful attitude, and tells jokes that were not written by Bob Hope's Writers 60 years ago.

NBC does it again.

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