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Fox suits on nabbing Conan O'Brien: 'We are not free to talk'

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Despite intense speculation that Fox could steal Conan O’Brien away from NBC now that Jay Leno is bumping him at 11:30 p.m., the Fox executives didn’t have any breathless announcements to make today regarding their future late-night plans. “Our position has been consistent all along,” Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told the nation’s TV critics in Pasadena, CA. “We do have the desire to do (late night) five nights a week. I love Conan personally and professionally but right now he has a decision to make about his future, so there are no conversations to be had. We talked to his people. We’ve had informal conversations. Beyond that, we are not free to talk about any other business proposition and we haven’t.”

Fox insiders have confirmed that the network’s affiliates are open to a late-night show at 11 p.m., especially if it involved the caliber of an O’Brien or even a Jay Leno. Reilly reminded the press that many stations already have contracts in place for syndicated programming. “That becomes a very sensitive business discussion in a market-to-market basis,” he said. “If you have a top piece of talent, it makes it a conversation to have.”

Meanwhile, insiders familiar with the negotiations said it may be 10 days or more before anyone knows whether O’Brien will agree to follow Leno’s half-hour show at midnight on NBC. NBC Chairman Jeff Gaspin told the press on Sunday that it’s not a done deal that The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will air at 12:05 a.m. after the Olympics. “The talks are ongoing,” he said. “[But] I hope and expect, before the Olympics begin, we will have everything set. I can’t imagine we won’t.”

In other news, Reilly said it was his intention to move ahead with the planned Our Little Genius quiz show despite an on-set snafu that prompted executive producer Mark Burnett to throw out the first two episodes. Network insiders say an” inadvertent” mistake was made in the way some of the child contestants were prepped for the competition. Burnett noticed what happened, immediately called Fox, and offered to pay for a reshoot himself, insiders say. A Fox spokeswoman stressed that at no time were the children given the answers.

“Our intention is to do the show,” says Reilly.

Photo Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC