Ross works to reinvent a genre

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Jeff Ross, executive producer of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," has been with the talk show since its debut on Sept. 13, 1993. He stomached the savage early reviews and NBC's tenuous commitment for the first few years. In the wake of the vindicating announcement that Mr. O'Brien will ascend to the "Tonight Show" throne in 2009, correspondent Larry Dobrow chatted with Mr. Ross about late-night the daypart. Below is an edited transcript.

Advertising Age: Is "Late Night" the kind of appointment TV that's TiVo-proof?

Jeff Ross: I'm not sure anything is TiVo-proof. When we went on the air almost 12 years ago, we had fans who were 17, 19, 21 years old. Now they're in their 30s and having kids. Hey, I can't stay up. I figure a lot of people TiVo it.

AA: By the time Conan takes over "The Tonight Show," how much do you think the late-night TV landscape will have changed?

Mr. Ross: I'm sure by then ABC will have a show on at 11:30 [ET]. Fox, maybe. What's left, UPN and WB? I guess anything is possible if they can talk the affiliates into it.

These shows, the pure economics of them are appealing. I don't see booking being more difficult. Fortunately, we're on the upper tier on the stops [guests] make. Any human being only has so much to say.

AA: Do advertisers seem more interested in your show now that it has the official "Tonight Show" seal of approval?

Mr. Ross: It's really hard to say. That's similar to the statement that people do a show to appeal to a certain demographic. Whenever I hear that, it makes me nervous. No person in a creative capacity goes into an endeavor saying, "Here's the audience I want to reach." They say, "Here's what I think is funny." Our success is based on Conan's sensibility. Lucky for us, it appeals to the "right" demographic, whatever that is this day of the week.

AA: When Conan and his team jump to the "The Tonight Show," do you see them offering different opportunities for advertisers, whether product placement or anything else, than his current show?

Mr. Ross: It's not our style, but I don't want to rule it out. Times are a-changin' in the world of TV. If anything, we'd be making fun of it. We get calls all the time-"Can't you use this do-it-yourself beehive?" It's astonishing.

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