Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Conan O'Brien Will Not Participate in NBC's Plans

I had another article planned for today, but as it was a little late anyway, one more day isn't going to do much more to hurt it.

A new development to an entry I posted a few days ago has made what I said a little more prescient.

Conan O'Brien has basically put the nails in the coffin of any NBC compromise that would see Leno, himself and Jimmy Fallon making a late night block together because he said he will not do The Tonight Show at 12:05, and gives a lot of reasons why he is making this decision.

Here is his letter:

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.



I had been thinking about this issue last night and it occurred to me that perhaps Conan O'Brien might take the deal, even though it was very irksome because he had more people to think of than himself. I am talking about his entire staff, which may now be out of work in the near future if NBC doesn't blink and back away from this plan.

I have to admire Conan's guts and integrity on this matter. He did what Johnny Carson would have done in his shoes, and I applaud him for sticking to his gun. He also did it in a way that makes NBC force him out. He didn't quit. He just said he won't do The Tonight Show if it follows another comedy program. The upshot of this is NBC looks bad no matter how this plays out. In essence, they will be pushing someone out who patiently waited 17 years for a chance to sit in the big chair of late night talk shows, longer than Leno or Letterman had for that same chance, and there is no way the network is going to be able to spin this as fair treatment.

Now there is a small chance that NBC will side with Conan over Leno, but it seems unlikely at this time, because the network seems intent on keeping Leno whatever the cost and that is a shame. But I can still hope.



Megan said...

I'm asleep long before any of these shows are on! :)

Conan's letter shows class. He doesn't deserve the treatment he's getting, that's for sure.

Arjan said...

these kind of shows are really a big thing across the big pond, but overhere I don't think we have anything that really compares. Sometimes they broadcast a random US show.

I hope Fox will make a good deal with him because he stuck with a good point.

Kristyn said...

I'm not much of a late night comedy fan. However, I completely agree with him. It's absurd to move The Tonight Show to a different time slot to accommodate Jay Leno, who just left the show. I feel bad for him, honestly, because he's a good comedian and doesn't deserve this treatment.

Maven said...

Why Fox! :( I hate that network. But if I "must," I'll tune in! :)

Re: Arjan's comment, didn't the UK have something similar a long time ago in the name David Frost? Wasn't he a big time talk show host "back in the day?"

Arjan said...

@ Maven: his name sounds familiar, but we've only got bbc 1 & 2 on regular cable in the Netherlands.

If you've got adsl you don't even get those..don't know what you can receive on digital cable though..

MC said...

Megan: I've been following this story intently. There are some really ugly turns in it.

Arjan: See, I would have thought Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross would have been those guys.

Kristyn: It has been coming out that even before Jay left The Tonight Show, he has been undermining Conan in an attempt to get the show back. He showed up at a press conference disguised as a reporter three days before he had to give up the show and had the following exchange with Ben Silverman:

"Now, Brett Favre retired and then wanted to come back, and the Packers said no. What do you make of that?" Leno also asked, alluding to some speculation that NBC might bring him back on "Tonight" and prompting the following response by NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, "Well, everyone's entitled to change their mind, but I would imagine that puts management in an impossible situation."

This was last MAY. You don't think Leno has been busting his ass trying to get this to happen?

Maven: Only network that will have an opening. If CBS was open, I am sure that's where Conan would go.