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Rupert Murdoch Talks Conan O’Brien

Speculation was rampant over the possibilities that former Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien would head over to Fox for the network’s re-entry into the late-night world. While many figured that a Fox/Conan pairing was inevitable, no real negotiations between the network and O’Brien have taken place.

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch said during his quarterly earnings call earlier this week that there are “different opinions” on the Conan issue.

“If the programming people can show us we can do it … and make a profit, we would do it in a flash,” Murdoch said. Asked if there have been direct talks with O’Brien, Murdoch said he was “sure there have been some conversations” but “no real negotiations.”

FX and Fox heads, Kevin Reilly and John Landgraf, have expressed “strong interest” in bringing Conan on board, but adding him is not as simple as it may seem.

Representatives for Conan say they’ve already heard from several networks expressing interest in him. Fox is most interested in a nightly talk show, but the network must first wrangle affiliates to give up their un-sexy yet profitable late-night reruns.

John Rash of ad firm Campbell Mithun, said “He actually has a TV tonality more appropriate for Fox than he did for NBC.”

Last month, NBC reached a $33 million agreement with O’Brien to end his seven-month reign as host of The Tonight Show. As part of O’Brien’s $33 million settlement, his NBC-based company was to continue to operate at NBC Universal through the end of the development season. Days after the network severed ties with O’Brien, The Peacock picked up a pilot for Justice, a show from his Conaco production company.

Justice centers on a Supreme Court judge who quits his job in order to start his own legal practice. It was written by John Eisendrath; O’Brien will serve as an executive producer.

The 46-year-old fronted his final show last week but is prevented from joining another network until September.

The agreement allows Leno, 59, to bounce back following the failure of his prime-time show, which launched in September.

Leno had hosted the Tonight Show for 17 years before he stepped down last year. He is expected to return to the Tonight Show after the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

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