By Eric Ditzian
Despite the previous down-in-flames fiascos of Joan Rivers, Chevy Chase and Magic Johnson, since this Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien flap first broke, it has been a distinct possibility that Coco would host late-night talk show on Fox.
This is not just idle speculation. In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, News Corp (which owns Fox) head honcho Rupert Murdoch said of bringing Conan to his network, “We’re giving it a lot of thought and a lot of examination.”
All the talk for the last few weeks, though, has curiously avoided some central questions: What would a one-hour late-night show on Fox mean for viewers? What would we lose, and what would we gain? Would the trade off be worth it? Let’s take a look.
At the moment, Fox affiliates and Fox-owned stations usually play syndicated sitcoms from 11 p.m. to midnight. My local channel actually gives me a sweet quadruple bill of “The Office,” “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” again until 1 a.m., and I love it. Sometimes the late-night shows have crappy guests. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for Comedy Central’s political jokesters. Sometimes I just want to kick back and laugh at sitcoms I’ve seen countless times before but that still make me giggle.
Am I ready to say goodbye to Jerry, to Bart, to Michael Scott? As much as I love Conan, I’d be sad to see that late-night sitcom option go away. Affiliates might be too. The reruns are very profitable for them. If Conan’s show can’t pull a sufficiently large audience, the affiliates are going to get angry. And when affiliates get angry, TV shows get canceled (see: “Jay Leno Show, The”).
You Still There, Triumph?
NBC owns Conan’s intellectual property. That is, in signing his departure agreement with the network, he just may have said goodbye forever to his signature bits like In the Year 3000 and Fake Celebrity Interviews. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, which Robert Smigel created while writing for Conan’s “Late Night,” might very well be gone too. While I have no lack of faith in the redheaded comedian’s ability to dream up new comedy gold, how much can they be expected to do? To replace one or two bits seems a surmountable task. But swapping out a nearly two-decade-long repertoire? Yeesh.
The X Factors
As has been mentioned over and over, Fox has had a string of embarrassing flame-outs in its attempts to launch a late-night franchise. But the Fox of old is hardly the Fox of late. From NFL games to “American Idol,” the network has morphed into a ratings juggernaut in a way it never was back in the short-lived days of Chevy and Magic. When you also note that Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” is making its way to the small screen, you can see how Fox will likely have a loud, year-round platform on which to promote the heck out of Conan. With Conan’s proven skills and built-in audience, plus the network’s entertainment stature, the one-time “Tonight Show” host has the best chance yet of creating an enduring late-night show on Fox — one you may (or may not) be watching at 11:30 p.m. for years to come.