Conan, Fox resume talks for late-night show

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After a two-week stall, Fox and Conan O’Brien have resumed talks about a potential late-night talk show fronted by the former “Tonight Show” host.

U.S. talk show host Conan O'Brien gestures at the 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 5, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Blake MB/CN

But a wrinkle in the courtship has emerged that involves the biggest show on television: O’Brien has been approached to take part in Fox’s “Idol Gives Back” special April 21.

Sources close to both camps stress that the offer is not related to the ongoing late-night discussions and in no way means the two sides expect to have a deal by April 21. In fact, the invitation to O’Brien came not from Fox but from “American Idol” producer 19 Entertainment, which is reaching out to several celebrities for the charity special.

The “Idol Gives Back” invitation was taken to NBC to determine whether that network would allow it under its settlement with the talk show host.

The answer was no, as the moratorium on any TV appearances by O’Brien doesn’t expire until May 1. He can, however, launch a show as early as September.

As for the prospects of that show being on Fox, no significant progress has been made in the resumed talks. O’Brien continues to consider other alternatives, including a syndicated or cable show.

There are two elements that would fit in nicely should O’Brien and Fox reach an agreement.

O’Brien could be available to attend Fox’s “upfront” presentation to advertisers in May. From May 13-20, his 30-city comedy tour has a performance every day except May 17 -- which happens to be the date of Fox’s upfront in New York. (NBC is holding its upfront that day as well, but it’s safe to say O’Brien won’t be attending that one.)

Additionally, if there is a deal with Fox or significant progress by April 12, when O’Brien’s tour starts, it could serve as a way for the comedian to meet with Fox affiliate stations. The stops on the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on TV” tour include the top nine TV markets.

Such face-to-face meetings are key to the successful launch of a late-night talk show franchise. David Letterman did it when he was starting “Late Show” on CBS after leaving NBC. In O’Brien’s case, the meet-and-greets could come with a bonus for station managers: getting to see the comedian perform onstage.