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April 18, 2014

Fox Affiliates Tell Conan: Meh

by Scott Harris, posted Apr 12th 2010 10:30AM
As Conan O'Brien prepares to take the stage tonight to kick off his live comedy tour, word has come that negotiations between the erstwhile late-night host and Fox are progressing nicely, leading to broadening speculation that O'Brien could find himself back on the air within the year. There's just one hangup: Many Fox affiliates don't want him.

That, according to the Hollywood Reporter, is now the biggest obstacle remaining in a proposed deal between O'Brien and Fox. At issue is the fact that most affiliates will be required to pay a higher retransmission fee to the network, since they will be gaining additional content -- content that may not be as profitable as the low-cost syndicated shows and reruns most affiliates currently air in the proposed 11PM time slot.As Conan O'Brien prepares to take the stage tonight to kick off his live comedy tour, word has come that negotiations between the erstwhile late-night host and Fox are progressing nicely, leading to broadening speculation that O'Brien could find himself back on the air within the year. There's just one hangup: Many Fox affiliates don't want him.

That, according to the Hollywood Reporter, is now the biggest obstacle remaining in a proposed deal between O'Brien and Fox. At issue is the fact that most affiliates will be required to pay a higher retransmission fee to the network, since they will be gaining additional content -- content that may not be as profitable as the low-cost syndicated shows and reruns most affiliates currently air in the proposed 11PM time slot.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that most affiliates have already signed deals for those syndicated series, an expense that they would then be forced to eat if those shows were bumped by Conan. Needless to say, that's a bit of a sticking point, as paying more money for a smaller profit margin is generally considered to be bad business.

O'Brien seems to be keenly aware of the potential issues an affiliate revolt could cause. The failure of 'The Jay Leno Show,' which led directly to Conan's ouster from 'The Tonight Show,' was caused in part by an affiliate rebellion against NBC's attempt to lower production costs by replacing scripted shows with 'Leno,' an attempt that also drastically lowered ratings. As a result, O'Brien is unwilling to agree to a deal with Fox until the network can guarantee that his new series will be carried by affiliates nationwide -- a guarantee that, at present, the network is unable to yet meet.

The good news for O'Brien fans is that if and when Fox is able to bring their affiliates on board, an agreement is likely to quickly follow. That's because O'Brien and Fox have made significant progress in other areas over the past weeks, agreeing to reduced production costs for the show (down to $60 million per year from 'The Tonight Show's' $90 million) and a lower salary for O'Brien himself. The two sides are still at odds on one other major point -- O'Brien wants partial ownership of the show, a la David Letterman's interest in 'The Late Show,' while Fox prefers to control the whole shebang -- but the general feeling is that once the affiliates are on board, everything else will fall into place.

Conan's 'Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television' tour kicks off tonight in Eugene, Oregon.

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