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Conan O'Brien 'Heading Up River'

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Feb 19, 2009 | 9:32am EST

After 16 years in NYC, Conan O'Brien is saying goodbye to the Big Apple and heading west.

O’Brien's Late Night mantle is about to be passed to Jimmy Fallon as O'Brien gets ready to sit at the most hallowed desk in late night history.  

O'Brien's move to the show that SteveJack, Johnny and Jay built was made official five years ago and the host has waited patiently to make the move.

But since NBC announced that current Tonight Show host Jay Leno would be given a show at 10 pm, some folks think O'Brien is getting stiffed.

Indeed, as the follow-up act for Leno, albeit an hour earlier than in the past 16 years, O'Brien could find himself competing within his own network for guests and attention.

"I feel a little sorry for Conan," one longtime late night executive told the New York Times. "I think he's getting sandbagged."

Warren Littlefield, who was NBC's top program executive when Leno began at Tonight, said: "Sure, Conan is still getting the Tonight Show, but who are we kidding? Call it what you will. But if NBC hasn't done it yet, you know they are going to at some point be saying: 'Late night begins at 10 o'clock.'"

O'Brien for his part acknowledged some trepidation about the move. "I've spent my fair share of time at 3 in the morning," he said, "lying awake like Martin Sheen in (Apocalypse Now), staring at the ceiling fan, thinking about my trip up river -- and we all know how that turned out."

But, he said he was relieved that Leno was staying at NBC. "Of all the alternatives in the universe, this one honestly does work best for me," he said. "I didn't want to suddenly be perceived as this person who forced someone into a bad position. I wouldn't be comfortable in that role."

In terms of bookings, Leno has previously said, "Even though it's 10 o'clock, we're going to pretend it's 11:30 ... I think we will have an advantage in saying to press agents: It's prime time. We reach a wider audience."

Lamented one late night executive, "it's going to be a nightmare for bookers in L.A."

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