This is a headline that should come to no surprise to anyone who’s been following the late night situation over at NBC regarding Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien:
Conan O’Brien tells NBC thanks, but no.
Or, more to the point, Conan today has released the following statement, in which he expresses no desire to host a watered-down Tonight Show:
People of Earth:
In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls,
and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a
second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid
to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve
been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very
public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate
Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The
Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching
Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that
chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get
that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since
2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to
extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken
belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some
time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from
the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is
impossible without both.
But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven
months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to
react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a
change in their long-established late night schedule.
Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the
Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35.
For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the
late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show
into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will
seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in
the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t
the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking
the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and
passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That
would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be
unfair to Jimmy.
So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy
hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment
it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked
unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the
legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I
honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the
argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t
matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter
There has been speculation about my going to another network but,
to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and
honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I
can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a
show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.
Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my
hair; it’s always been that way.
And really, who can blame him? Was there anyone in the world who has come away happy with this turn of events? Anyone at all? Scripted TV producers? Local affiliates? NBC execs? I doubt even Leno himself will be getting much satisfaction from all of this and doubtful his public rep, which still has never completely recovered from the whole Carson / Letterman situation, will come out any better.
I don’t know what kind of guy Jay Leno is personally. From some accounts, he’s an affable person, from others perhaps not. Regardless, he seems to be universally reviled by anyone who wasn’t around for the Tet Offensive. Whereas Conan is the opposite for the same demographic. However, when it comes to keeping his place in the pecking order on NBC, Leno is going to get his way, no matter who gets screwed. Too bad he didn’t show that kind of steadfastness six years ago when this whole thing began germination.
So where will this all ultimately lead? I wouldn’t be surprised at a quick return to The Tonight Show for Leno after the Olympics, accompanied by a strategic initiative by NBC to utilize some sort of black magic to make everyone forget the last year. Or, they might just go the Dallas route and say the previous twelve months were just a dream. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Kevin Eubanks waking up to a showering Leno on the first show back.
Now we have Conan’s response. And really, it was the only one he
could have given.
Tune over to Letterman on the message boards.