Kilborn out early for ‘Late’ gig

CBS, CC at odds over comic's signature schtick

NEW YORK — Craig Kilborn will be able to leave Comedy Central before his contract runs out, but he might not be able to take all of his trademark bits with him to CBS.

At a news conference Tuesday announcing the signing of Jon Stewart to a four-year, $6 million deal to replace Kilborn as host of “The Daily Show” (Daily Variety, Aug. 11), execs at the all-yocks cabler said regular “Daily” features such as “Five Questions” belong to Comedy Central, not Kilborn. As a result, whether Kilborn will be able to take those features with him to CBS is unclear.

“(The bits) are the intellectual property of Comedy Central,” said “Daily Show” exec producer Madeleine Smithberg, adding that it’s still “up for discussion” which staples of the program will continue under Stewart.

For his part, Stewart indicated he’d rather come up with his own set of standing features, but he said the final decision was up to his new bosses.

Property rights

The issue of intellectual property is nothing new to latenight. In 1993, NBC told David Letterman he couldn’t bring certain “Late Night” segments with him when he moved to CBS. Letterman revived many of those features anyway, though he presented them in a somewhat new manner, avoiding a legal tussle.

Relations between CBS and Comedy Central have been strained since CBS announced last spring it had signed Kilborn to replace Tom Snyder on “The Late, Late Show.” The cabler threatened to hold Kilborn until the end of his contract next summer, and even went to court to stop Kilborn from appearing at the Eye’s upfront presentation to advertisers in May.

With Stewart locked in to take over from Kilborn in January, Comedy Central now says it’ll let Kilborn out of his contract, probably in mid- to late December. However, insiders believe CBS probably won’t be able to use Kilborn in any on-air promotion until February or later in order to give Comedy Central a wide berth to hype Stewart’s arrival.

As for the intellectual property debate, Comedy Central topper Doug Herzog said he’s hoping for a peaceful resolution to the potentially thorny issue.

“We’re not litigious people. We’re trying to work things out with our new friends at CBS amicably,” he said.

A CBS spokesman declined to join the battle. “Reasonable people will reach reasonable solutions,” he said. “We’re not going to debate this in the press.”

March launch

Assuming Kilborn is able to ankle Comedy Central by the end of the year, CBS will probably wait until at least late March or April to launch the new “Late, Late Show,” network insiders said. Kilborn and the web will need the time to reshape the latenight program from its current interview-based format into something more suitable to his personality.

While the new “Late, Late Show” is still very much a work in progress, CBS insiders say the program will add a studio audience and more comedy elements. However, it probably will be a “smaller show” than “Late Show With David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show” or “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” one insider said.

“It’ll have a small, intimate feel, with a real spirit and attitude,” the source added.

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