Conan O’Brien’s Future: Five Options For His Next Step

By Eric Ditzian

“This level of sh–tiness was not expected.”

That’s what one source close to Conan O’Brien told the New York Post about NBC’s sloppy bout of late-night musical chairs, and it’s hard to disagree with that salty sentiment. Six months into his run as just the fifth host since the launch of “The Tonight Show” in 1954, the red-haired goofball is being asked to start his show 30 minutes later to make way for a revamped version of Jay Leno’s talker.

So what’s Conan’s next move? Does he-who-rocks-the-dopest-pompadour-on-TV stay put? Does he leap to a new network? Does he strike out into entirely new pop culture territory? Let’s take a look.

Launch a New Show on Fox
Pros: Word is that Fox is interested. Hopping to a rival network, Conan can stick it to the NBC brass that anointed him their golden boy and ditched him at the first sign of affiliate grumbling. Pack up “In the Year 2000″ and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and head over to Rupert Murdoch’s place. Then trounce both Leno and Letterman in the ratings. In TV Land, revenge is a dish best served with a can of Nielsen whoopass.
Cons: Fox couldn’t launch a breakout late night show if Johnny Carson came back from the grave backed by the musical stylings of Elvis Presley. Beware, all who do not heed the lesson of Chevy Chase’s career-mangling flameout. The only thing more embarrassing than tanking at “The Tonight Show” is crashing and burning on your own.

Return to “Saturday Night Live”
Pros: For years, Conan worked behind the scenes during the glorious late-’80s/early-’90s heyday of “SNL” — you know, when the show was still consistently funny. Imagine our hero returns to 30 Rock as the show’s head writer, finds the next generation of Chris Farleys and Dana Carveys and reinvigorates the late-night hour. He can even flash his mug on camera as the new host of “Weekend Update.” Sorry, Seth Meyers.
Cons: As Meyers might put it, “Really?!” Can Conan ditch “The Tonight Show” limelight for the Cheeto-dusted anonymity of the “SNL” writers’ room?

Write a Memoir
Pros: It’s time for your next act, Conan, so follow the example of politicians and disgraced public figures. It’s time to start controlling your own narrative. Write a tell-all autobiography about your humble comedy origins, making it big on NBC and how the network then imploded around you. Name names. Do it with the goofy humor we’ve come to expect from you. Make the talk show rounds and go in for one of those 19-page New Yorker profiles. With the winds of a “Conan Returns!” narrative at your back, you can sail forward into any gig you like (except one that airs at 11:35 pm on NBC).
Cons: Writing a book is, like, really annoying and takes forever. By the time you finish, Leno will have been cracking jokes for months and you’ll be relegated to a footnote in the storied “Tonight Show” history.

Do a Reality Show
Pros: You had a good run as a talk show host. Now it’s time for a new career: Reality star. Maybe the show’s a peek into your everyday life, like “Hogan Knows Best.” Maybe you try out a whole bunch of new careers, searching for the one that fits you best. Maybe you head out to Seaside Heights for season two of “Jersey Shore.” You already have your own cast-approved nickname: “The Solution.”
Cons: Reality shows are trashy. You can’t taint your brand by slumming it at the lowest common denominator. If you have to stoop to this level, you might as well get out of the biz entirely.

Don’t Go Anywhere
Pros: Conan’s ego may be bruised, but there’s still no greater late night platform than “The Tonight Show.” Any other gig will inevitably be a major step down. Be happy you still have a job. Your core demo needs you. If all we have our Leno’s clunkers and Letterman’s aggressive detachment, what will we do? America needs Conan to stay put.
Cons: How can Conan stay with a network that has undoubtedly treated him like the redheaded stepchild he already sort of resembled? The 12:05 pm hour will be a nightly reminder that he’s playing second fiddle to a former Doritos pitchman.