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O’Brien bows Sept. 13; format still a mystery

Conan O’Brien played another round of “meet the press” Tuesday with TV critics, who seemed a bit frustrated by their inability to nail down just exactly what the unknown host-in-waiting’s show will be like.

NBC did say that “LateNight With Conan O’Brien” will premiere Sept. 13, two weeks after David Letterman bows his CBS series and less than a week after the Sept. 7 intro of “The Chevy Chase Show” on Fox Broadcasting Co. “We wanted to get out of the way” of those new-program launches, “Late Night” exec producer Lorne Michaels said.

That leaves a potential two-week gap where repeats of Letterman’s “Late Night” could air at 12:35 a.m. on NBC in the hour following his CBS show, though NBC officials declined comment on their plans for that period.

O’Brien acknowledged that he wasn’t thrilled about keeping the “Late Night” name and said there will be few other similarities to his forebear. He said he harbors “no desire” to employ elements like the Top 10 List that NBC can claim because it produced the Letterman show.

“I don’t think anybody wants to see me do those things,” O’Brien said, adding , “I couldn’t do Dave’s show if I wanted to…I’ve got to do Pat Sajak’s show the best I can.”

O’Brien will tape two weeks of practice shows before making his debut in what Michaels described as “a traditional talkshow,” adding that the genre is “entirely about who’s behind the desk.”

NBC recently appointed Michaels associates Robert Smigel and Jeff Ross as producers on the show, but O’Brien said the staff will include several people who haven’t worked in TV before. “You have to hire people like that to innovate, ” he said.

Howard Shore, an active film composer who has overseen the music for Michaels on “Saturday Night Live,” is helping assemble the show’s band, still a work in progress.

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