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O'Brien Signs for Another Four Years of ‘Late Night’

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Conan O'Brien, who began his life as an NBC late-night personality working under the skeptical gaze of his bosses and tenuous months-long contracts, has signed a new deal to continue as host of “Late Night With Conan O'Brien” for another four years. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although sources have said that O'Brien will be making close to $8 million annually.

The deal puts to rest speculation that O'Brien might jump ship to another network, possibly Fox, which is alone among the major broadcast networks in not having a presence in late-night comedy. O'Brien has become a key component in NBC’s late-night dominance, regularly winning his 12:35 a.m. time slot, where “Late Night” averages 2.6 million viewers and has garnered Emmy nominations for its writing.

In announcing the deal during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa indicated that the network is also close to working out an agreement in which reruns of “Late Night” would air on cable--a growing trend whereby networks, looking to recoup costs in a sluggish advertising market, garner additional revenue from their original series by repeating them on cable outlets.

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A similar arrangement was among the factors that held up the recent launch of NBC’s “Last Call With Carson Daly,” which follows “Late Night” Monday through Thursday. Next-day reruns of the talk show will begin airing on E! Entertainment Television weekdays at 6 p.m. beginning Monday.

The natural spot for “Late Night With Conan O'Brien,” several sources said, is Comedy Central, where O'Brien’s sensibility would presumably work alongside programming that includes “The Daily Show” and reruns of “Saturday Night Live,” on which O'Brien once worked as a writer. Discussions between NBC and Comedy Central on “Late Night With Conan O'Brien” are said to be ongoing, though representatives from both sides declined comment.

“We have pretty specific reasons for doing Carson and Conan [on cable],” Sassa said, including increased exposure for two personalities whose shows run well past midnight.

For O'Brien, meanwhile, the contract renewal comes as the latest affirmation for a late-night personality who, back in 1993, was plucked from virtual obscurity and given the vaunted time slot David Letterman vacated when he took his late-night caravan to CBS. Since then, O'Brien has won over critics and viewers alike.

“I’m very excited to be staying at NBC,” O'Brien said in a statement Tuesday. “By my 13th year, we should really know if this thing works or not.”


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