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CBS eyeing Shandling, sources say

Garry Shandling could still end up hosting a late night talkshow in the hour that follows “The Tonight Show”– but on CBS, not NBC.

Sources and published reports indicate CBS is courting Shandling to host a show in the 12:35 a.m. time period following its new David Letterman-hosted talker.

The target launch is tentatively in January. That date is significant, since NBC’s insistence on a late-summer introduction was one of the sticking points that caused Shandling to turn down “Late Night” once Letterman leaves the Peacock network — despite a reported four-year, $ 20-million offer.

A January start would allow Shandling to finish production of his HBO series “The Larry Sanders Show” and still have several months to mount a new show.

CBS has already re-ordered some of its late night action series, which air under the umbrella title “Crime Time After Prime Time,” and plans to air those shows after the still-untitled Letterman show, whichwill premiere in August.

A January start for Shandling would give the network time to burn off some of that inventory.

Though CBS’ offer would satisfy Shandling’s concerns about timing, a major unknown factor in any negotiations remains the comic’s reported ambivalence about doing a late night talkshow.

According to sources, Shandling was at one point on the verge of agreeing to host a syndicated late night series but backed out at the last minute. That venture, subbing in another client of agent Brad Grey, became the short-lived “Dennis Miller Show.”

A spokeswoman for Shandling declined comment regarding any negotiations with CBS, as did the network.

NBC has set Conan O’Brien, a former writer for “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” to fill the post-“Tonight Show” time period (see related story). One problem with any CBS show would be clearances, since, unlike NBC, the network is currently widely preempted in late night by affiliates to make room for syndicated fare.

CBS has said it expects the Letterman show to premiere with more than 90% national coverage, though some clearances will be delayed, and coverage levels would be considerably lower for anything in the post-Letterman hour.

A Shandling series would also add to the late night talk logjam, which will also feature a new show hosted by Chevy Chase on Fox Broadcasting Co. in addition to “The Arsenio Hall Show,””Rush Limbaugh” and other syndicated programs.

Prior to “Larry Sanders,” Shandling starred in the Showtime/Fox Broadcasting Co. series “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and was a frequent guest host on the Carson-era “Tonight Show” before Jay Leno was named as permanent guest host.

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