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Conan O’Brien Ponders Life After ‘Tonight’

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With the cancellation of NBC’s much-hyped The Jay Leno Show and the current talks about Jay Leno returning to his old 11:30E/10:30C time slot, many people are wondering what will happen with Conan O’Brien, who has only been hosting The Tonight Show since last June. In his monologue last night, Conan joked about his options, which were:

• Host The Tonight Show at 12:05.
• Star in a Lifetime original movie about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her network.
• Go to ABC and star in a male redhead version of Cougartown called Redwolf Village.
• Host a show on BET called White All Night.
• Move to Fox and follow their hit 24 with a new show called 24:05.
• Televise my own colonoscopy on the Bravo channel in a show called Project Funway.
• Convince NBC to let me keep this time slot if I gain 10 pounds of chin.
• Andy and I will become a team of wacky morning DJ’s called “Big Red and the Booger.”
• Pretend to put my son in a giant foil balloon, then sit back and watch the offers come pouring in!
• Perform the show live every night from Zanies Comedy Club at 7:30 and 9:30. (1/2 price drinks if you tell ‘em “Coco” sent ya!)
• Bring sanity back to NBC by hiring Gary Busey as head of programming.
• Leave television altogether, and work in a classier business with better people, like hard core porn.

Some of those options aren’t too far off. The reality is that Conan may very well be launching a new show on another network (perhaps Fox?). That seems to be his best bet. Sure, it won’t be The Tonight Show, but then again, The Tonight Show doesn’t even really exist any more. It has essentially become just another show (especially since the great Johnny Carson retired back in 1992). If Conan doesn’t jump from the sinking ship that is NBC, then he’s as crazy as the network executives.

UPDATE: Conan has released an official AP statement, declaring that he has no interest in starting his show at a later time:

People of Earth: In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

He goes on to say that if he and Leno were both squeezed into the late night schedule, that it would be the undoing of The Tonight Show:

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years, the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show.

Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

Conan, of course, is absolutely right. In some ways, due to NBC’s and Leno’s insistence that restoring the old Tonight Show to its pre-Conan ratings glory is the way to go, it means that will have to be a sacrifice. And that sacrifice may have to be Conan. He understands that better than anybody, saying:

I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it…but I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.

Currently, he has no other offers on the table (even from Fox) and NBC has not commented on the matter yet. I expect an announcement about the network’s late night future sometime later this week. And I expect that plans won’t be including Conan (although, if NBC executives were smart and savvy –which they clearly aren’t– then they would shave off Fallon and Daly from the lineup first).

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