Fox execs in informal talks with O’Brien’s reps

Rice and Reilly also talk about net's sked at TCA

Fox execs love Conan O’Brien — but that’s still a long way from making a deal with the displaced late-night host.

Speaking to reporters Monday as part of Fox’s TV Critics Assn. press tour, Fox Entertainment chair Peter Rice and prexy Kevin Reilly said it was still to soon to speculate on whether Conan O’Brien might find a home at Fox.

“We’re kind of digesting it the same way you are,” Reilly said. “We are a little bit just in sort of the ‘wowee’ mode right now.”

Reilly noted that the network has said for years that it might eventually be interested in bringing back a late-night franchise– something it hasn’t had since 1993’s disasterous “The Chevy Chase Show.”

The problem, of course, comes in clearing such a show. Stations have done quite well with syndie fare in late night, where they get to hold on to more advertising inventory.

“The affiliates have, on a case by case basis, committed to their own programming,”Reilly said. “That becomes a very sensitive business discussion. But with a top piece of talent that makes it a conversation to have.”

Reilly and Rice said they’ve very informally discussed O’Brien’s situation with the host’s reps, but have held no conversations about being a potential home for him.

“I love Conan personally and professionally, but right now he’s got a decision to make about his future, and until he makes that decision, there really is no conversation to be had, and we have not pursued it,”Reilly said.

He added: “We talked to his people, who we are in business with on multiple fronts. We talk to them all the time. So we’ve had some informal conversations, mostly commiserating about the situation.”

Asked if O’Brien’s early ratings drops in late night might give Fox and its stations pause before persuing, Reilly said he didn’t think the host was “damaged goods in the least.”

“(If he came to Fox), I haven’t thought about it creatively, but I don’t think his show is broken,”he said.

Asked about NBC’s failed Jay Leno experiment, Reilly said that he “never bought into the idea that (Leno) was the killer app.”

“I didn’t think they would make such a quick turnaround, but it was still a matter of time,” he said.

Most of Rice’s and Reilly’s session was spent discussing Simon Cowell’s exit from “American Idol”and 2011 launch of “The X Factor.”But beyond O’Brien, other topics discussed included the net’s sudden shelving last week of gamer “Our Little Genius.”

Fox and producer Mark Burnett yanked the show due to possible improprieties — and the execs credited the producer for “getting in front of this proactively.”

“(Burnett) has indicated he wants to re-produce the show himself, but we haven’t engaged him on that yet,” Reilly said.

Speaking to development, Reilly said the net would likely pickup eight drama pilots and ten comedy pilots this season. He also said that animation dominator Seth McFarlane had another project up his sleeves.

That said, Reilly said Fox is also looking to expand its animation horizon beyond McFarlane (having recently picked up the series “Bob’s Burgers,”for example.

“We’re looking to broaden our animation brand a litle bit, (so) we’re not all Seth all the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fox also announced that it hasn’t stopped believin’ in “Glee.”

Net confirmed Monday that it would pick up a second season of the series (Daily Variety, Jan. 11) , not a complete surprise, given the frosh drama’s hit status.

But the early pickup will allow the show’s producers to start planning season two now , and will also allow Fox to conduct a nationwide casting search to fill three new roles on the show.

The “Glee”casting competition gets underway in February, and will be produced as a multi-part special to air in late summer , leading to the fall launch of “Glee’s”sophomore season.

“Glee”creator Ryan Murphy said the second season competish is in the vein of his initial talent search to find “Glee’s”breakout cast.

“Anybody and everybody now has a chance to be on a show about talented underdogs,”Murphy said. “We want to be the first interactive musical comedy on television.”

In picking up “Glee”early, Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly called the show “a true and rare gem in television.”

“We couldn’t be more proud of what Ryan Murphy and the ‘Glee’ team have created so far,”Reilly said.

Currently on winter hiatus, “Glee”starts the second half of its inaugural season on Tuesday, April 13 at 9 p.m. Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan co-created the series; 20th Century Fox TV is the studio.

Separately, Fox also announced a premiere date for its summer scripted series “Code 58,”from “Burn Notice”creator Matt Nix.

Show will launch with previews on Wednesday, May 12 at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, May 19 at 8 p.m., before moving to its Monday at 9 p.m. permanent home starting June 7.

“Code 58,”which is still a working title, stars Bradley Whitford as a washed-up cop partnered with a young hotshot played by Colin Hanks.

Fox TV Studios is behind the show; Nix and Mikkel Bondesen are the exec producers.

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