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Carson Daly on his late-night ambitions

The late-night host is psyched about NBC granting another two years on ”Last Call,” but makes no secret of his desire to take over the Peacock’s 12:30 a.m. time slot when O’Brien moves to ”The Tonight Show” in 2009

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Heidi Gutman

It’s a good week for Carson Daly. For one, NBC announced that he’s getting a two-year contract extension as the late-night talk show host of Last Call, which has enjoyed a good following from the MySpace generation this year (in fact, Last Call has been attracting more 18-to-34-year-old viewers than The Late Late Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!). The network has also re-upped NBC’s New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly. The 34-year-old pondered what this all means with EW.com.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You guys were shooting last night, right?
CARSON DALY: Yeah, we shoot two shows two nights a week, which is a little weird. We have these kind of hectic days and then some down days.

That’s kind of nice.
It’s good and bad. I’d actually rather shoot a show a day, but it’s a lot more economic to shoot two days a week. But we shoot Thursday and then, like, Britney will drive drunk with her child on Friday, and I don’t get an opportunity to talk about it until the following week.

So your contract extension…
Did I get one? I got one? That’s great.

Are you relieved?

TV is so unpredictable these days.
In television, shows are hard to get and they’re even harder to hold on to. I am ecstatic that I have my show at NBC. I mean, I’m just thrilled.

What’s the likelihood that we’ll be seeing you in the 12:30 a.m. slot in 2009? [Conan O’Brien is expected to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009, putting O’Brien’s talk show spot up for grabs.]
Well, that’s a question… [Laughs] I love how you just come out with that. Like I have the answers — ”Let me look into my ball…” You’re going to have to ask somebody a lot more in the know than I. To be honest with you, having this extension until 2009 — which seems to be an interesting year in the entire world of late night — is a great first step for us. Just being in the mix is great. As far as 12:30, it’s something that we’ve always wanted the network to look at us as contenders for, and we work hard every day to try and prove to them that we would be able to fill that slot. All we do is our little show every night.

And so it has been something that you’ve always been interested in, moving up in the world?
I think so. I mean, we just had a five-year anniversary, which has just flown by, and I think from the beginning we didn’t know exactly what kind of show we wanted to be. Since we moved to L.A., we’ve been excited — [like], ”Yeah, we’re a late-night show, let’s get our house band, let’s get a desk, let’s do some monologue jokes… There’s a very untapped young Hollywood and a lot with MySpace and everything happening on the Internet — let’s try and make that our niche.” If you watch our show, we look like the other five late-night shows on network television. But people don’t realize, we have a lot — all caps — A LOT less money and tools to play with. So I think, proportionally, we do a great job.

This is really premature, but if you were to get an earlier slot or change shows, would you be concerned about the indie band aspect? Conan features some indie bands, but you’re really known for breaking a lot of them.
You know, that’s a good question, and I think I would love to have that problem. I would love to be on earlier in the night and deal with that. But the truth is, whether it’s 12:30 or 1:30 in the morning, anything earlier in my mind is just more exposure for these bands.

With that New Year’s Eve gig in mind, how are you trying to franchise yourself?
Listen, you have to remember, I started at KROQ in Los Angeles. I was a DJ in clubs. It was music. And then I went to music television and we created TRL and that became very big and I did that for five years, and then it was just like, Let’s go to network TV and do late night and feature music. I loved MTV and I loved my time at TRL, but all of that, as big as Carson Daly and TRL was at that time, that really wasn’t necessarily my niche, if you will. I would rather be slightly more stealth and a little more quiet. I mean, I’ve enjoyed the last couple of years. What I want to continue to do is stay one step ahead of the curve. The Internet has been very important to me. It’s been a great tool to utilize social networking. I do a lot of business on the Internet aside from the late-night show, which has been fun and I’m learning a lot about where entertainment is heading. And New Year’s Eve too [is important]. That’s something I did at MTV all of the time so I’m glad to be doing that.

So what do you do after the ball drops in Times Square? Do you go home, or is there more partying ahead?
I start sweeping up confetti; it’s part of my job.