January 12, 2010, 3:10 pm
Conan O’Brien Says He Won’t Host ‘Tonight Show’ Following Leno
By BILL CARTER of NewYorkTimes.com
Conan O’Brien says he will not host “The Tonight Show” if it is moved to 12:05 a.m., as NBC has proposed.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Mr. O’Brien said he cannot participate “in what I honestly believe is its destruction.”
Mr. O’Brien’s comments come two days after NBC formally outlined a plan to move “The Jay Leno Show” to 11:35 p.m. in March, elbowing Mr. O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” back half an hour. Mr. Leno seems supportive of the plan; but in his statement, Mr. O’Brien rejects it outright. The statement reads:
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.
After 16 years making a name with his distinctive brand of intellectually silly comedy on NBC’s “Late Night” show, Mr. O’Brien replaced Mr. Leno as the host of “The Tonight Show” a mere seven months ago. He is just the fifth man to lead ”Tonight,” after Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Mr. Leno.
Mr. Leno, meanwhile, moved to prime time in September as the host of “The Jay Leno Show.” But the 10 p.m. experiment was a bust for many NBC affiliates, which have seen the ratings for their late local newscasts plummet.
Amid mounting pressure to scrap the talk show, NBC announced on Sunday that Mr. Leno’s last show at 10 p.m. would be Feb. 11. NBC will begin showing the Winter Olympics the next day, setting the stage for a new schedule on March 1. But the network acknowledged that day that Mr. O’Brien was not yet on board with the move.
Fox has expressed interest in starting a late-night show starring Mr. O’Brien — provided he found a way to extricate himself from his NBC contract. The contractual complications were outlined in this story in Tuesday’s New York Times.