Fox and O'Brien talks still in preliminary stages

Thu Mar 18, 2010 1:31am EDT
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By Nellie Andreeva and Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - He has become the most famous out-of-work American.

Save for a few weeks of vacation after he signed off January 22 as "Tonight Show" host, Conan O'Brien has stayed in the news. First, he launched a Twitter account, then came the announcement of his 40-city comedy tour, and now attention has shifted to what he will do next on TV.

The camp of the late-night host has engaged with Fox, long considered the most logical new TV home for O'Brien, whose sensibility is in sync with that network's core young-male demographic.

But talks are in preliminary stages, and the two sides have not been in communication during the past two weeks.

Still, a late-night show on Fox remains a viable option for O'Brien that has wide support at the network, starting with toppers Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch had said publicly that he would back the idea if it makes money.

To do so, a Fox late-night show would have to trim significantly the $50 million-plus annual budget of "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" at NBC, in addition to the host's eight-figure salary.

Fox reportedly has presented O'Brien with a framework for a deal, but it is said to have included no numbers.

Then there is the factor of clearing a show on all Fox stations, which might have to be done in stages because station groups are under varying long-term deals for series reruns during the 11 p.m. hour and could push the start of an O'Brien show to 11:30 in some markets.   Continued...

<p>Conan O'Brien gestures at the 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 5, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>