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That Escalated Quickly: Conan O’Brien Says He Won’t Do 12:05 ‘Tonight Show’
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Conan O'Brien

If you’re on the internet, then you’ve surely heard about the drama going down at NBC right now. The studio had a major freak-out about their dwindling ratings after Conan O’Brien took over the legendary hosting duties of The Tonight Show from Jay Leno, who came back with his new gig The Jay Leno Show. In an effort to make all of the boo-boos go away as quickly as possible, NBC made the panic-induced decision to bump Leno’s new show up to 11:35PM (the long-time slot of The Tonight Show), effectively pushing Conan back to 12:05AM.

After all of this, rumors began tearing across the stratosphere, claiming word of O’Brien’s possible departure, and how FOX had supposedly put out big offers to both Leno and Conan (FOX making a smart move? Interesting). So would Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno just go along with NBC plans and hope that it all worked out, or would they both take offense and walk away?

It looks like Leno is a-okay with doing his show at 11:35 again, but now comes word via an open letter to the New York Times from Conan O’Brien himself that he will simply not stand for this. In his letter, he goes over the situation and explains why he can’t be a part of the changes — all reasons that make all the sense in the world.

Continue reading to check out the full letter from Mr. O’Brien.

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 decision.

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 more.

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.

Yours,

Conan

Many have taken this as Conan’s resignation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It just looks like he’s standing strong in front of NBC and telling them that if this is the route that they really want to go, then he won’t be a part of it. This also puts NBC in an even worse spot where they really need to choose their next move with extreme caution. This my friends, is now a live and angry bomb diffusion situation, and the slightest bead of sweat falling in the wrong spot could find them losing one or maybe both of their late night stars.

Big props to Conan for staying professional and staying true to not only himself, but the legacy of The Tonight Show. Clearly, this isn’t just about the money to him, and that’s the kind of admirable trait that makes the best in his business, whether he’s getting the ratings or not.

7 Comments »

  1. Go Conan and Team. Personally, it does not affect me time wise (Hulu watcher), but I completely understand how real time watching does effect The Tonight Show and Late Night.

    Solution: Send Jay to another network.

    Comment by Slipstream — January 12, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

  2. Go get ’em Coner Boner.

    Comment by Joseph — January 12, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  3. Go Conan!!!

    Comment by Jerry — January 12, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

  4. Maybe if Conan were actually funny I might care.

    Comment by Shawn — January 13, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

  5. Conan O’Brien’s comedy can run hot and cold sometimes but Jay Leno doesn’t make me laugh at all. Apparently he doesn’t make a lot of other people laugh either or he might not have failed so miserably in prime time. I do feel bad for Conan though. To have worked so hard to make it to the Tonight Show only to have the wind taken out of his sails by someone who gave up the chair to move on, fail and come back? That sucks! Leno had his time in the spotlight and pretty much took all of NBCs schedule with him. Why does anyone at NBC think that Leno will miraculously do better if they push him back to 11:35? I say let Leno go and give Conan a fighting chance!

    Comment by Paul — January 13, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  6. Leno is so NOT funny. Nothing he ever approaches in his monologues has any guts whatsoever. And he’s a mush. Case in point- he had the opportunity to make a stand in his monologue (or publicly) with Conan and instead, made a couple quips about NBC which trailed off into his self-deprecating grey hair bit.

    FIRE LENO!!!!!

    Comment by Blair — January 14, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  7. Keep Conan. That hair is awesome!!! Leno sucks!

    Comment by Jon J — January 15, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

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