Will Conan Grab His Ankles and Go Back to Late Night?

Jackie Chan toughs out another interview with Conan O'Brien

Sorry to use such a crude metaphor--but it appears to be apt:

The future of NBC’s plan to shake up its late-night television lineup may depend on just how much Conan O’Brien doesn’t like what the network has done to him.

A day after NBC executives said they were contemplating a plan to move Jay Leno back to 11:35 p.m., elbowing Mr. O’Brien back a half-hour to 12:05 a.m., representatives of Mr. O’Brien’s are privately saying that he has not accepted NBC’s plan and that he is likely not to agree to it any time in the near future. But none were willing to say so publicly.

The uncertainty has created an extraordinary spectacle: Two of NBC’s biggest stars, with an aggregate salary of more than $50 million a year, and their staffs are waiting to see what might happen, with no official word being issued from the network or any of its executives.

A senior executive at a rival network said that if Mr. O’Brien and his representatives were willing to walk away from money he may still be owed by NBC, “they’ll have options.” The executive spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to avoid becoming involved in NBC’s dealings with Mr. O’Brien.

Conan might be willing to walk away from money in order to salvage what is left of his reputation. NBC has damaged him with the half-assed Jay Leno arrangement.

Here's where the pill gets a little bitter:

One option seems to be emerging for Mr. O’Brien. On Friday the Fox network began sending signals that it may have a home for Mr. O’Brien, should he decide that he would rather opt out of his lucrative contract at NBC — which pays him in the range of $20 million yearly — for a shot at a show that does not relegate him indefinitely behind Mr. Leno.

“We’ve always been interested in late night and we’re always looking to bring great new talent to Fox,” said a Fox employee who demanded anonymity because network employees were not authorized to speak on the record about the issue. “While Conan would be a great fit for Fox, he’s still under contract with NBC, so we’ll just see how all of this plays out.”

Several news organizations published similar anonymous comments from Fox on Friday afternoon.

A senior Fox executive amplified the network’s interest by saying that a late-night show has always been at least loosely on the network’s agenda.

“We love Conan,” the executive said.

Right. They "love" Conan insofar as they can get him. Fox might say that it wants him, but this is really just tampering with someone else's talent at this point. Does Fox have anything akin to a late night presence or opportunity that would entice millions to do what they're not doing now, and that's tune in the easiest program in America to find?

I mean, really. Who can't make the Tonight Show work? It's NBC, after the late local news. It's an institution even Jay Leno couldn't completely kill. And Conan has all but killed it so far. What's next? Jerry Seinfeld? Drew Carey? Or Ellen DeGeneres?

If it's NBC, then my money is on a pairing from hell: Rosie O'Donnell and Steve Guttenberg.