Conan O'Brien kicks off his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour on Monday night (April 12), almost three months after leaving "The Tonight Show." At the same time that he's set to start slinging jokes onstage instead of in front of the camera, his reps are making progress with plans to launch a new late-night show on Fox.
But talks between the two camps face obstacles from Fox affiliates, according to The Hollywood Reporter — obstacles that could ultimately disrupt a deal for an hour-long show that would air at 11 p.m.
Right now, Fox affiliates and Fox-owned stations usually air syndicated sitcoms from 11 p.m. to midnight. If the affiliates begin airing Conan's show, they'll still be on the hook to pay for syndicated deals already in place, as well as having to pay retransmission fees to air the network's feed.
What's more, the syndicated shows, like "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons," perform well; if Conan's show does not do well in the ratings, the affiliates might start to grumble.
"The question is how much can one network ask of its affiliates?" an unnamed inside source told THR.
Despite these affiliate concerns, talks between Fox and O'Brien's people have progressed in recent days. Both camps agree that the program would air at 11 p.m., 30 minutes before Jay Leno and David Letterman's shows but at the same time as Jon Stewart's "Daily Show."
The show would be based in Los Angeles. O'Brien has agreed to lower his salary and cut production costs. The new program's budget would be significantly less than it was for his "Tonight Show" stint. Including O'Brien's $12 million salary, the NBC show cost about $90 million a year to produce. The Fox show would have a budget of less than $60 million.
"It will be leaner and meaner," another unnamed source said.
Other sticking points remain. Conan won't sign an agreement unless Fox guarantees that the show will be broadcast on the vast majority of Fox stations. Like Letterman, Conan wants to own his show rather than work for Fox, but Fox wants to keep Conan as its employee. But the key to the deal will rest with the affiliates, some of whose owners will be in-house when Conan takes the stage in Eugene, Oregon, on Monday.
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