Fox Readies To Re-Enter Late-Night Arena

Fox is preparing for a fourth foray into the late-night wars after a 12-year absence.

The network has named Todd Yasui, former executive producer of CBS’ Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, as senior VP, late night programming.

Yasui is already executive producer on Talk Show with Spike Feresten, a pilot currently under consideration for a late evening time slot, though not necessarily for the weekday, late night daypart Yasui is now charged with programming. It could follow Mad TV on Saturday nights, for example, (weekends fall under the current programming department).

“Exploring the late night arena is a priority for Fox," says Entertainment President Peter Ligouri, "but we won’t jump into that time period without a sound strategy that effectively serves both the network and our affiliate body. 

Fox has not had much success in weekday late night.

In 1986, it began its network life with the launch of the Joan Rivers-hosted Late Show, then failed to sign Arsenio Hall for a late night series after he filled in following Rivers’ departure (allowing Paramount to sign him for his own successful, long-running late night syndicated talk show).

Instead of Hall, Fox went with the short-lived Wilton North Report and, several years later, tried again with a Chevy Chase talker in fall 1993, which flopped famously, lasting only 29 episodes.

At that point, affiliates took the daypart back for themselves to program. Fox would have to handle delicately any new attempts to reenter late night since affiliates now get to keep a majority of the ad inventory for themselves.

Yasui’s hiring represents the second attempt by Fox to re-enter late night in recent years.

In 2002, former Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman had the network approach NBC late, late night host Conan O’Brien, but he subsequently decided to stay at NBC and has been named to replace Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in 2009.--John Eggerton contributed to this report.