NBC, Conan O’Brien, and Jay Leno have spent the last two weeks in the spotlight following rumors of an NBC late night restructuring. For the last week it appeared as if no late night personalities were safe.
As details of the restructuring emerge its pretty clear that everyone suffers to some extent, but none as much as O’Brien. After being forced to move to Los Angeles to host the Tonight Show, uprooting his family and friends, NBC is taking the coveted 11:35 time slot away from O’Brien and giving it back to Leno. Leno would get a 30 minute show and O’Brien’s show would be reduced to 30 minutes beginning at 12:05. Jimmy Fallon would be pushed back to 1:05, and Carson Daly would be pushed to 2:05. Leno obviously benefits from the restructuring while all of the other parties involved suffer.
Last night, January 11, O’Brien took clear aim at NBC executives and Leno during his broadcast (see the video after the jump). His monologue and skits made his displeasure with the situation quite clear and seemed to indicate that he would not be sticking around if the rumored restructuring was to go forward. Today O’Brien made it official by releasing the following 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.
There is no classier way to bow out of the limelight. Paying homage to the legacy of the Tonight Show, and showing a great deal of respect for his late night successor, Jimmy Fallon. In sharp contrast to O’Brien’s statement; Leno, who retired only to re-emerge with a prime time show which airs prior to the Tonight Show and the evening news, has shown a complete lack of respect for his brethren. Once it became clear that his new show had failed and would be canceled be began to worm his way back into his old time slot without any regard for those standing in his way. Though he has remained silent on the issue he appears to be pushing for the change (or at the very least a willing participant). While none of the rumored changes are official (yet?), the only way that Leno could come out of this with a clean reputation would be to decline the spot as gracefully as O’Brien has refused to participate in the restructuring.