Is Fox open to courting Conan O'Brien? Sure, says source. But....

A Fox insider confirmed that the network has always been interested in Conan O’Brien for its (struggling) late-night lineup – says “he’s great!” – but cautioned that the comedian is still under contract with NBC. Still, that hasn’t stopped media outlets from posting reports that the competition may be gearing up to steal the 46-year-old host of The Tonight Show should he balk at a plan to move Jay Leno back to 11:30 p.m. Right now, NBC remains committed to O’Brien as its Tonight Show host; it released a statement saying, “He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years and is one of the most respected entertainers in television.” But questions are sure to arise over whether O’Brien would settle for a midnight berth behind his predecessor, should NBC follow through with its already controversial plan. For now, nothing’s set in stone so no one’s talking — but the network could be waiting to make an official announcement on Sunday, when it meets with the nation’s TV critics in Pasadena, Calif.

On the one hand, having the (once popular) Leno as a lead-in could give O’Brien the ratings boost he needs. The comedian is routinely trounced by David Letterman — season-to-date, The Late Show is averaging 4.2 million while The Tonight Show trails at a mere 2.53 million. O’Brien’s Tonight Show is down 50 percent versus a year ago when Leno was pulling in an average 5.02 million while wrapping up his final year as the King of Late Night. At the same time, O’Brien probably wouldn’t have signed a multi-million deal with The Tonight Show almost six years ago if it meant airing at midnight — or else he might have bolted to the competition once his contract on Late Night expired. Ever the class act, O’Brien didn’t refer to the big shakeup in his Jan. 7 monologue (Leno, meanwhile, quipped, “I understand Fox is beautiful this time of year”). But O’Brien’s not above a little self-loathing. In his opening night monologue last summer, O’Brien gave a humble shout-out to the ”man who hosted this show for 17 years [and] took very good care of this franchise…Mr. Jay Leno,” before deadpanning, ”and he’s gonna be coming back on the air, I think, in two days — three days, maybe, tops.”

Stay tuned.

For more on the late night news:

Jay Leno takes a swipe at Letterman: latenight chaos continues, Conan and Kimmel weigh in

Craig Ferguson on the Jay Leno Move

Jay Leno jokes about cancellation rumors


Comments (77 total) Add your comment
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  • mariela

    i think conan will probably accept this crappy deal. he won’t want to put his crew out of work, considering how a lot of them moved all the way from NY to do this. i feel bad for him though, he’s totally the victim in this whole situation. NBC’s the villain and leno’s the passive weasel. he should have just left NBC to go to another network in the first place if he didn’t want to retire. because he knows this is screwing conan over, and the 10pm show was screwing him over as well

    • Brooke

      If Conan was able to duck out of his contract and leave NBC, I would guess the staff would go with him.

      At some point, NBC will have to give up either Conan or Jay. The two of them plus Jimmy plus Carson is too, too much for one network’s late night slate. And NBC can’t afford to pay both of them enough money to stay on board and not get decent ratings.

      • Stephanie Tanner

        Conan can move to Fox and be their “Tonight” person and bring back Spike Ferensten as the “Late Night” person. This combo would be the best on TV

      • cutejewishsingles

        Carson Daly should be the new host

      • Sparky

        I love how everyone is blaming Jay. The blame lies at Jeff Zuckers door – he’s the one in charge of this mess and every other mess that NBC is currently in…

      • Sally in Chicago

        Conan is probably negotiating out of his contract as we write. Trust me.

      • hc

        @Sparky: Agreed. How that man keeps getting promoted while seeing NBC drop from 1st to 4th in networks under his watch is mind-blowing! I will partition some of the blame to Jay, though – I’m sure the changing-of-the-guards agreement Conan, NBC, and Jay set to all those years ago was made with the understanding that Jay wasn’t going to jump ship when he retired…until he actually retired and decided he was unhappy with the deal he made. If they were upfront with Conan then they wouldn’t have this mess and that abortion of a plan called Leno at 10.

    • Lauren

      I think the way NBC has handled this is terrible. They couldn’t have done a worse job. This whole scenario screws everyone. Conan and Jimmy Fallon gets moved back, Carson Daly will prob lose his show. Jay gets villainized…Everyone has just settled into their spots and now they’re going to start all over. So stupid.


      As long as it’s not to the Faux News channel, I’ll gladly follow CoCo wherever he goes.

  • ryan

    Leno is the past and Conan is the FUTURE. Give it up Jay and just retire already.

    • @Ryan

      Riiiiight….so THAT’S why Conan’s ratings are down FIFTY PERCENT from Leno’s 08-09 numbers.

      • Henry

        I think it’s pretty obvious that Leno’s 10PM show is cannibalizing Conan’s audience share. Instead of watching The Tonight Show with a new host, they followed the old host to a new timeslot or stopped watching.

        I’m not a fan of Conan, but man, the guy deserves better.

      • Matthew Newman

        Leno also had a 17 year head start on those ratings. Obrien is competing against letterman who has been on the air since 1993. Conan has to build an audience before he can be considered unworthy of the title. Both Letterman and Leno were accomplished at that time slot give the new guy some time to build a fanbase at that slot.

      • Huh?

        Conan has to build an audience?

        Hello? He’s been on the air for SEVENTEEN YEARS! Not only that, but Conan was getting 2-2.5 million with Jay Leno as a lead-in… I’m not sure what you’re really talking about. If anything, Conan is nearly as established as Letterman at this point.

      • SteveStrifeX

        Conan has been on the air for seventeen years at 12:30am. Not a lot of people stay up that late to watch TV, so yes he has to build an audience at 11:30. Any kind of time shift needs to try to keep both the regular audience and build on a new audience.

      • Ken

        no, because Americans love bland mediocrity. Why did Transformers 2 make hundreds of millions of dollars? Why is coldplay one of the most popular bands in the country?

      • Susan

        Its Leno’s fault alright-ask local affiliates.

      • JT

        What if NBC would’ve given up on Jay at his six month mark, when he took over the tonight show? Jay was getting killed by Letterman (just as Conan is now). But, they stuck with him. Now they can’t even give Conan the same two years, they gave Jay. NBC and Leno sucks period.

      • dogloversdate

        So are viewers moving to Letterman or just staying away? Conan probably shared a lot of the same NY viewers as Letterman, but he should be doing better. The problem is that Leno is around and still King. I say put Conan on at 10 or 9:30

  • peabody3000

    leno has always been completely mediocre, but mediocrity sells. regardless, i hope NBC wont make a bad situation worse by going through with such a flawed plan, and that america can acclimatise to o’briens absurd yet intellectual humor

    • LMAO

      …at you thinking Conan has even a hint of “intellectual” humor in his show.
      I guess for a ditz like you, his show must be intellectually stimulating…

      • ROFL

        …at you for not understanding intellectual stimulation. Leno is 9 out of 10 times not funny. The reason Leno’s ratings are up higher than Conan’s is mostly attributed to the fact he has been a staple in that spot for so long and the majority of those viewers are in fact old, white people. The same generation is most likely not going to have the same taste for the masturbating bear, nonetheless, he still maintains a decent amount of conservatism to appeal to that audience. Leno’s never been intellectually stimulating (Jay Walking?).

      • leia

        wow, someone is wearing their grumpy panties today! i personally love how silly conan is, and he never fails to make me laugh. that’s more than i can say for leno

    • keith

      Leno and Conan arent funny anymore. THats why their ratings are in the toilet.

  • Ash

    I agree “mariela”. I think Conan is in a really tough position; he has to think about his staff, so he might stay at NBC.

    I really want to see Conan every night, and I want his crew to still have a job, but if there is a way he can leave the HORRIBLE NBC, he should! Hopefully, he’ll get a better deal on another network.

  • Aaron

    conan will move to fox, take the gen x crowd with him and destroy leno, and NBC will still be in last place, having pissed a lot of people off in the process.

    • Brian

      Well said.

    • hc

      I agree – I think people will be shocked by how well Conan does at fox. They’re programming is a better lead-in for the tone of his show and NBC has been effectively splitting the late night audience on their station by keeping Leno on.

      Sidenote: I’ve been to a couple Conan tapings back when it was still done in NY and both times he came out and met the audience before the show started taping. I think one thing that may keep him from jumping to fox is that he is too much of a class act.

  • Andrews

    Conan….come on over to FOX
    we love You!

    • ArtyLunch

      Conan on FOX will be 6 of 7 nights a week that Murdock politics would get a new one ripped with Wanda Sykes taking the Saturday night jabs.

  • ArtyLunch

    Leno on so early that he puts too many brain dead Americans to sleep before the NEWS. Why not just switch Conan into primetime where there are still people alert enough to get his higher brow humor.

    • ?

      Conan…high-brow humor?

      Are you trying out for the new late night spot, because that was FUNNY!

  • S.O.

    from ESPN’s Bill Simmons twitter:

    If I were Conan O’Brien, I would have the Masturbating Bear as my only guest for an hour every night until NBC fired me.

    • ArtyLunch

      A real masturbating bear would be the way to go. Less and less bothering to watch this highly censored, corporate advertiser friendly pooh. The real bear could challenge www fans to return to TV.

    • Matt

      But people would tune in specifically to watch that.

    • Brad

      Might be the only thing that keeps me awake til 12. God knows Leno would have driven me to sleep by then.

  • Phil

    Conan probably won’t jump to another network unless he can take all his employees with him.

    The big difference between Conan and Jay Leno/NBC – as silly and sophomoric as humor may be – is this:

    Conan has class.

    • ……

      Yup, Conan is FULL of class – you must have never watched 17 years of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” LOL

      • JT

        Yeah, but he would never screw Jay they way Jay is screwing Conan.

      • Lauren

        There’s a difference between being unclassy and self-deprecating. You can still have class and do ridiculous bits.

  • James Howlett

    NBC keeps shooting themselves in the foot. If they put Jay back on at 11:30 expecting to get their numbers back, the execs at NBC need a reality check. That is in the past and those numbers won’t come back. To make matters worse, they’re going to make 11:30 even more competitive. Instead of having just one competitor (Letterman), they’re going to have two once Conan becomes free and clear to accept offers elsewhere and Fox signs him to anchor their new late night programming.

  • Fatima

    Why does NBC disrespect its late night hosts time and time again!?
    First it was skipping Letterman for the Tonight Show
    Then it was forcing Leno (who I’m not a fan of) off his perch when he was still getting good ratings and wanted to do the show.
    Now its taking Conan’s deserved moment away from him. He needs to get out of there since they really can’t be trusted.

  • Eric

    I used to watch Letterman, prefering him greatly to Leno, who was serving re-heated jokes night after night. Time past and I got tired of the constant bashing. Conan “Conando” O’ Brien is the second talk show host (other would be Arsenio Hall) to entertain me for this long, keeping me wanting more and more (Conando, Twitter Tracker, 3000, Shatner reciting texts and so much more!). I like the kind of humor the late night show presents to me now, something fresh, and not to anyone’s detriment (maybe mayor booker’s at one point *laughs*). All i’m saying here is, out with the old, in with the funny, and if O’ Brien changes networks, so will I.

    • Janet

      I agree. I will go with Conan. He is the best.

  • anthony

    we’ll see

  • joe joe

    Leno’s vanilla. This whole thing is an act by him and NBC. Jay makes it look as though he hates nbc by trashing them. So when Conan doesn’t except the 12 am demotion, they have no choice but to put Jay back at tonight show. They pass it off on Conan. IF Conan does leave, he is much better suited to fox’s younger demos anyways. Leave jay for the fading boomers on a last place network.

  • Susan

    I hope Conan tells NBC what they can do with the “new” offer. Leno’s stupid show is the reason Conan’s ratings are behind now Leno is going to save him by kicking him out of the plumb time slot? Choice! Now that’s irony! Of course that’s assuming Leno will enjoy the same ratings he did before his current embarassment-which I doubt will happen. No, Conan should do as Letterman-leave NBC and start fresh. This debacle is going to smell up late night and Leno’s name for a long time and he’s best getting out of the network run by morons.

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