Conan Refuses Late Start For Tonight Show

It looks like it is going to be tough for NBC to find a way to keep both Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien happy while avoiding the ratings disasters of having Leno at 10:00. Conan says he will not go along with the idea of moving the tonight show back to 12:05, and blames his poor ratings at least partially on the poor lead-in from NBC’s prime time line up (i.e. Leno’s show).  Conan O’Brien issued this statement refusing to accept moving The Tonight Show to protect “the franchise” and apologizing for his hair:

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’m not sure if NBC will be able to find anyway to keep both Leno and O’Brien happy and avoid seeing one of them moving to another network as Letterman did. David Letterman mentioned another solution last night, joking that NBC was going to bring back Johnny Carson at 10:00.

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  1. 1
    NAL says:

    I’ve never gotten the appeal of Conan. If his rating are worse than Letterman, let him go, I’m not buying the poor lead-in argument. Poor lead-ins are why we have remotes.

  2. 2
    Leslie Parsley says:

    Ive never been crazy about him. I don’t think he’s particularly funny – too slap-stick – and really bad about interrupting his guests. He’s no Leno or Letterman.

  3. 3
    b-psycho says:

    If they have to lose one of them I’d personally prefer it be Leno.  Jay’s bit has been largely stale for years.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Long term NBC is probably better off with Conan than Leno. Short term they are probably looking at the fact that Leno beat Letterman while Conan trails in the ratings. I’m sure they are going to try to keep both, but I’m not sure if this is possible.

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