Amidst the speculation that Tonight Show frontman
Conan O'Brien might shift to a similar role on Fox, multiple managers at Fox
affiliates say they're lukewarm on the idea. All pointed out that it's
premature to speculate on an O'Brien-at-Fox arrangement, and none were comfortable
commenting on the record for that reason. But their off the record comments
indicated a low level of interest in O'Brien airing on their stations.
Calls to Fox affiliates board chairman Brian Brady were not
returned at press time.
O'Brien may be a free agent in light of NBC's announcement
that it was pushing Jay Leno's primetime variety show back to 11:30. While
scenarios are still being drawn up, NBC is considering airing O'Brien a half
hour later, at 12:05.
Fox, presenting its schedule for the Television Critics
Association press tour in Pasadena Jan. 11, has made a run at O'Brien in the
past, and recent comments suggest that he has options around the dial should he
feel slighted after relocating his staff and family to Los Angeles for his new
NBC gig. But several Fox affiliates say clearing an O'Brien-helmed network show
at 11 p.m. would be tricky, as stations are locked into syndication contracts
in that slot, or increasingly, have new newscasts coming out of their 10 p.m.
local news. WXXA Albany and WPMT Harrisburg, among many others, are Fox
affiliates with new 11 p.m. newscasts.
Both the syndicated and local news options offer stations
better ad inventory than a network show, say the affiliates, and have made for
an often lucrative time slot. "We have syndication agreements locked down,"
says one GM based in the south. "I'm not sure how you move those out of the
Addressing reporters at TCA, Fox Entertainment President
Kevin Reilly acknowledged that a host of sticky business issues would have to
be worked out with affiliates to pave the way for a late-night show, and said
the network would keep in mind the economic struggles many affiliates have been
through of late.
Indeed, it may not be the ideal time for Fox to appear to be
pushing a new program on affiliates, as some station groups are uneasy about
the network demanding a substantial piece of the retransmission consent fees
they're extracting from pay-television operators. "It would be difficult for
Fox to pull off," says one former Fox affiliate GM of luring O'Brien for 11
p.m. "There'd have to be a compromise, because several GMs would be adamantly
opposed to it."
Other general managers say O'Brien, who cut his teeth as a Simpsons
writer on Fox years ago, may not be the right fit for their viewers, and his
inauspicious run at The Tonight Show hasn't exactly bolstered his
popularity. "If he didn't work on NBC, why would he work for us?" asks another
southern-based affiliate GM. "I don't see a fit in our particular market."
That's not to say they're turned off by humor that many
would classify as offbeat. "If it's Jon Stewart," says another, "the affiliates
might get excited."