Powered by i.TV
December 20, 2014

Conan O'Brien and Fox Take Baby Steps Toward a Deal

by Gary Susman, posted Mar 18th 2010 12:00PM
Conan O'BrienBoth Conan O'Brien and Fox would love to be able to have a deal in place for a late-night Coco talk show starting this fall that Fox could announce by the time it makes its annual splashy upfront presentation to advertisers on May 17.

But so far, there's no deal, no dollar figures being discussed, and in fact, no talks at all between Fox and Team Coco over the past two weeks, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Still, according to the Reporter and the Los Angeles Times, the two sides have agreed on a basic framework for a deal. Now all they have to do is figure out the money and how to get all of Fox's local stations to agree to bump their current late-night programming to make way for the former 'Tonight Show' host. "We'll get there," a source close to O'Brien told the Times on Tuesday.

Of course, getting the local affiliates on board is a major obstacle. Many Fox stations have pre-existing contracts to air syndicated reruns during the crucial 11:35-to-12:35 hour, contracts that would have to be bought out to make room for O'Brien. Those reruns, of such comedies as 'The Simpsons' and 'The Office,' are cash cows for local stations, which may be loath to give them up for a guy with a history of losing in the ratings to CBS' timeslot rival David Letterman. Still, both Fox and O'Brien would want uniform clearance on Fox stations nationwide, so that the program could start at the same time in every market. Without a uniform start time, the show would be hard for audiences to find, for the network to promote, and for nationwide sponsors to feel comfortable buying ad time. If he can get clearance, however, O'Brien could start his show as early as 11PM on Fox, getting a half-hour jump on Letterman and NBC's Jay Leno.

Conan doesn't have to go the network route. He could wind up on cable, though not on the most obvious fit, Comedy Central, which already has a popular 11PM-to-midnight team in Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. He could start at midnight on Fox or cable, but that seems unlikely, since his refusal to do a version of 'Tonight' that didn't start until 12:05 (when it's already tomorrow) led to his departure from NBC in January.

Another option for O'Brien would be syndication. According to the Reporter, Team Coco has been approached by Debmar-Mercury, which syndicates 'South Park.' Syndication might not cover as much of the country as network or cable deals, though it could be more lucrative for O'Brien. The current talks between O'Brien and Fox don't have figures attached, though it's likely Fox would pay him a lot less than the $12 million per year he used to pull down at NBC. That amount was part of a 'Tonight Show' production budget of $90 million a year; according to the Times, Fox would like to spend under $60 million annually.

Not that Conan needs the money. He took home $32 million in severance from NBC. He does have his briskly-selling 30-city live stage tour this spring, and he's in talks to turn the concert spectacle into a theatrical documentary. O'Brien has said, however, that he's not taking any pay from the tour, which he sees largely as an excuse to provide jobs for many of the staffers who followed him from New York to Los Angeles last year, only to lose their 'Tonight Show' gig after seven months. (Of course, the tour and the film would also be terrific promotional tools for his new show, wherever it ends up.)

One more minor hurdle: a soundstage on which to film the new talk show. The Times reports that Team Coco has been looking at several Los Angeles-area venues. One of them, paradoxically, is the Universal lot's now-shuttered 'Tonight Show' set, which NBC had spent $50 million renovating in preparation for O'Brien's taking over the franchise from Leno last summer. (Now back hosting 'Tonight,' Leno is using the same soundstage he used for his ill-fated primetime experiment, 'The Jay Leno Show.') Despite the bitter public feud between NBC and O'Brien that surfaced during his final couple of weeks at 'Tonight,' NBC is reportedly willing to lease him back his old stomping grounds.

Of course, if none of these negotiations pan out, and O'Brien finds himself jobless once again after the tour winds down in June -- well, there's always Twitter.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

Follow Us

From Our Partners