Embroiled in a controversy caused by NBC’s scheduling ineptitude, Tonight Show host (for now) Conan O’Brien says he’s not moving his 11:35 time slot for anyone, including the large-chinned talentless comedian responsible for the peacock network’s ratings nosedive:
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 have to admit that I’m surprised and happy at the stance Conan is taking here. Surprised that he’s standing his ground and essentially daring NBC to fire him if it really wants to move Jay Leno back to 11:35. Happy because he’s sticking up for himself- he didn’t cause the mess left by the Talentless Jay Leno Show at 10:00, so why should he have to move so NBC can keep Jay Leno on the air?
NBC originally said it viewed the Talentless Jay Leno Show as a 52-week experiment. Well, it hasn’t been close to that long. It’s understandable that the network wants to shake things up to improve ratings. But as Conan says, the Tonight Show wouldn’t be the Tonight Show airing a half hour later with another similar show airing right before it.
That’s called Late Night, and Conan paid his dues there for 16 years (and never even got a 15th anniversary special for it).
Still, if there’s a positive out of this (besides the principled stance Conan’s taken here), it’s that Conan could go someplace that wants and values him. As NJ.com’s TV Critic Alan Sepinwall writes:
a “Tonight Show” that airs tomorrow, and after another late night comedy show, is “The Tonight Show” in name only, nothing more. It is NBC’s attempt to hold onto both Jay and Conan no matter what, to avoid giving Conan his money, or his ability to jump to Fox (whose executives, though they couched their comments to critics on Monday in careful legal niceties, seemed very pleased by the possibility of getting to start a late night franchise with the guy), and to pretend like the whole split-the-baby strategy wasn’t a massive miscalculation in the first place.
It was a miscalculation that evolved into a disaster. Sure, NBC has two spots for three people (nevermind the fact that two of those people have contracts for those spots). And regardless of the decision, the network knew it would upset one of those people with its decision. But with this decision, it’s dumping the future and letting it find its way into the arms of a rival. It’s another wonderful move from NBC.