The New York Times is reporting Conan O’Brien won’t host the Tonight Show if he’s forced to start the show at 12:05 a.m. after Jay Leno’s at 11:35 p.m.
Good for Conan.
The best late-night performer for the past two decades, O’Brien was told he would take over the Tonight Show from Leno six years ago. In June of 2009, it finally became a reality. While O’Brien has toned down a few things from his run on Late Night, he has breathed new life into the Tonight Show. Letterman has won in the ratings department thanks to scandals and O’Brien’s weak lead-in (Leno), but it does seem O’Brien still holds the younger audience.
He’s adjusted to 11:35 exceedingly well. From his signature pre-filmed bits to bringing back Andy Richter (now comfortably on the sofa during interviews), O’Brien also remains unique with his zany brand of humor. Simply put, unlike Leno’s Tonight Show, O’Brien’s is never boring.
Last night O’Brien slammed NBC, listing off his options, including my personal favorite, “Leave television altogether and work in a classier business with better people, like hardcore porn.”
But it was right at the beginning of the show that, after a long ovation from his audience, Conan announced “I’m Conan O’Brien, the new host of Last Call with Carson Daly.”
He might as well be. NBC, where art thou? The network that brought us “Must See TV” with Seinfeld and Friends, along with other truly outstanding programming, is long gone. Now in last place, they simply try to save money by putting on Leno at 10 p.m. five nights a week. I watched the first 10 minutes of the first show and haven’t watched since.
In other words, NBC has screwed Conan O’Brien. Leno’s show is a terrible lead-in to local news on affiliate stations, which then has a direct impact on the success of the new Tonight Show. All so NBC can save a few dollars by not producing dramas (that people still clearly are interested in).
In fact, besides the Tonight Show and Jimmy Fallon’s terrific Late Night, I never watch NBC. That’s a dramatic change from just three or four years ago. The only time it makes sense to turn on NBC is for Sunday Night Football or on Thursday’s for the entertaining antics on 30 Rock and the we’ve-ran-out-of-ideas The Office.
So here’s to hoping that NBC sees the writing on the wall and somehow keeps the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien at 11:35 p.m., in it’s rightful place. If they don’t, I hope it comes back to truly hurt the network. Maybe O’Brien can jump ship to Fox. I certainly won’t be watching Leno or the cranky, old, and hypocritical Letterman.
In fact, I’m with Conan, who last night joked he took pleasure in the fact that NBC is going to lose $200 million on the Olympics, starting next month.
Because you simply don’t screw over a man that has given everything to your network for the past 16 years.
Here is O’Brien’s full statement:
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.