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Conan O'Brien's manager says statement not about points or strategy

Conan O'Brien's statement to the "people of Earth" about his thoughts on being asked to move "The Tonight Show" to 12:05 a.m. so NBC can put Jay Leno back at 11:35 p.m. was not a negotiating ploy, according to his manager.

CONAN4 "This came from the heart," said Gavin Polone, the veteran producer and manager who is responding to calls about O'Brien's missive, in which the host wrote NBC has not given him a chance to establish himself at "The Tonight Show" and that he is the victim of the network's prime-time woes.

"It's him expressing his feelings; there is nothing else behind it," Polone said, adding, "it's not about strategy and contracts." That won't stop people from reading O'Brien's statement to NBC as him saying he won't quit "The Tonight Show" but he won't play ball if it moves to 12:05 a.m., either of which would force NBC into firing him. NBC is declining to comment on his statement.

Regardless of how this all plays out, it is the latest in a series of public relations misfires for NBC. The network was caught by surprise last week when its plans to move Leno back to late night and bump O'Brien were leaked and today it also didn't know what to say in response to O'Brien's remarks.

While O'Brien notes that he was only given seven months to prove himself in late night, so far this season he trails CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman" by 65% in viewers. The shows are tied in the key 18-49 demographic, but O'Brien has squandered a 15% lead in that group that Leno left him.

O'Brien supporters argue that Leno struggled for almost two years against Letterman before passing him in the ratings. Of course, the media landscape has changed dramatically since the mid-1990s and for better or for worse, networks just don't have that kind of patience anymore. If they did, NBC would stand tall behind Leno in prime time instead of deciding to end that show less than four months after its premiere.

Some NBC affiliates agree that one can't blame O'Brien alone for the performance of "The Tonight Show."

“It’s difficult to point your finger at 'The Tonight Show’ and say it is doing well or poorly,” said Ray Heacox, president of NBC affiliate KING-TV Seattle. NBC’s prime time is struggling and that hurts late news, which then hurts O’Brien. “It is tough to separate what is cause and what is effect.” Heacock thinks “the best of all worlds is to get them all to play happily together because that would be the best possible lineup.”

That may be wishful thinking.

-- Joe Flint

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Conan's cunundrum

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Fredrick M. Brown/Getty Images.

 
Comments () | Archives (60)

Solution: Produce two shows to run at 11:35: "The Tonight Show" with Conan O'Brien, and another show with whatever (other) title Jay Leno wants (he reportedly didn't like using "The Jay Leno Show" for his 10:00 pm outing). Then let each affiliate decide which one it wants to run. They can switch between the shows if they want. After a few months the show that fails to get adequate airtime or ratings gets canceled.

nbc needs to be punched in the mouth
long live cone and his zone.

It's hardly fair to say that Conan "squandered" Leno's lead. Leno had 17 years to cultivate an audience, and through most of the 1990s he benefited from the best prime time lineup in television history, (Friends, Seinfeld, Fraiser etc).

The field has shifted a bit because Letterman is a 30 year old brand in Late Night, and CBS's prime time lineup has attracted viewers. (CSI, NCIS, and some other things that are uninteresting yet popular).

Conan got 7 months. It's a shame, but I'll watch him wherever her goes.

Maybe Conan should sleep with his workers and get some of Dave's viewers back...

Conan should leave the Tonight Show.. For his own good. I like Conan and wherever he is on I will watch him. if NBC is going to screw over their own flagship show to keep Jay Leno around then let them. there are plenty of places where Conan's ( admittedly zaney) brand of humor would be far more appreciated.

Give Leno and his watered down "Safe" comedy style back the Tonight Show, and give Conan what he really deserves.. his own brand.. free of the stigma and expectations that the Tonight Show carries.

Conan should pay the price for the Leno/NBC gamble going bust?! I think not!

McSaddle made a very good point. Jay Leno got tenure and great primetime shows. The only thing he doesn't have is a really good sense of humor, at least not like when he started. He's now an arrogant guy who's materials are terrible. Conan is the fun guy who loves his job and his audience.
I'm with you, Cone bread!

One thing to look at when figuring that "Conan squandering Leno's ratings Lead" is Leno himself. When Leno took over the Tonight Show, Carson retired...he didn't take his viewers to a "new" show that was exactly like his Tonight Show. Meaning, not only did Conan have a weak lead in, he also had to follow the same show that people saw as "The Tonight Show"

12:05 am?? It's called the "Tonight" Show, not the "Tomorrow" Show. Jay bombed at 10 pm, and now wants to take his Tonight Show marbles back and go home? My guess is that NBC (No Brains or Competence) hopes Conan will quit in disgust, so they can bring Jay back to the Tonight Show

12:05 am?? It's called the "Tonight" Show, not the "Tomorrow" Show. Jay bombed at 10 pm, and now wants to take his Tonight Show marbles back and go home? My guess is that NBC (No Brains or Competence) hopes Conan will quit in disgust, so they can bring Jay back to the Tonight Show

12:05 am?? It's called the "Tonight" Show, not the "Tomorrow" Show. Jay bombed at 10 pm, and now wants to take his Tonight Show marbles back and go home? My guess is that NBC (No Brains or Competence) hopes Conan will quit in disgust, so they can bring Jay back to the Tonight Show

There's also to consider that Conan has been forced to change his content, beyond just cultivating the user base. He's had to keep his old one while moderating himself and getting rid of some of the more Conan-y things he used to do, ex. Fed-ex Pope and Shoeverine. Achieving balance between both while keeping watchers who have a very established and hardly middle-ground option is hardly fair to him. Plus the previously mentioned lack of lead in material (does NBC even have shows on Tues/Wed/Fri?) and Conan has more than enough excuses. Leno does too really if he wanted to do something similar, he's hardly been given time either, especially considering how huge of a change 10 PM comedy was (as they went on and on about in commercials). I may hate Leno's show as well and see why it's being cancelled but NBC is just being dumb.

Just another reader pointing out how off-the-mark your writer was with "Conan "squandered Leno's lead."

As others have pointed out, Leno both competes with Conan, and is responsible for a flop lead-in show. I guess you could say that Leno squandered Carson's lead, however.

At least this story isn't as grossly off-base as your other one, which announces that Conan is leaving the Tonight Show. Did you guys even read Conan's actual announcement?

I am appalled at NBC for their slimy, unethical business actions. Leno is a loser, not at all funny and forced his way into the spotlight initially stealing the job away from Letterman. Leno is a sneaky unethical hack who needs to be let go. Obrien is and should be the Victor here. NBC is going to be losing all of their viewers if they put that hack Leno back on in Obrien's place!

TEAM CONAN!!! all the way. Leno is kind of a bastard to be even thinking about taking his old time slot back. bad karma, chin boy.

The mistake happened, kids, when NBC didn't give the job to Letterman, who worked for it and who deserved it. CBS is profiting from that mistake now.

leno sabotaged conan's tonight's show...there is no other way to view it.
when carson handed the show to leno, you did not have carson taking half his viewers to an earlier hour not to watch the later program.
however, when leno "handed" the show to conan, leno stole a good portion of conan's native audience and shifted them to an hour and a half earlier.
and, did nbc promote conan's tonight show? no, they, instead promoted the leno show. where do you think the viewers went? nbc shifted them to the leno show at 10 p.m., and many did not like it.
the "loss" of viewers was totally the fault of leno and nbc.

Conan is a looser. He has lost 2 million viewers per night since taking over from Leno. And he accuses NBC of not sticking with him until he gets established? Everyone in this business knows that ratings are money, not just to the networks but to the local affiliates. Conan has been bleeding money. How much time does he think he should get?

For my money, I tried Conan the first night of his show. I have never watched the "Tonight Show" again. I wait until 12:35 and tune in to CBS and watch the funniest man on late night, Craig Ferguson. If NBC was smart they would loose both Leno and Conan and throw boat loads of money for him to jump ship.

I predict that decent folks, disgusted by NBC's shabby treatment of the affable Conan O'Brien, will leave arrogant Jay Leno to pound sand and follow Conan wherever he goes. I know I surely will.

Jay Leno? Who cares about him, he is not even half as entertaining as Conan is!!! Conan shouldn't have to suffer for Leno's bad reviews!!!!!

What kind of a disgusting jokers work over at NBC? They are hugely hypocritical and undeserving of their positions. Well...unless their positions are to suck out any talent and character that is still left on television. Conan has so much character that he chose to do what he believes best for the franchise he loves. God bless him for that.

Perhaps because I am older than 49, I find Conan's brand of humour and delivery far too childish for me. I gave up on him after the first few weeks. I accept he has his own audience. Since they are younger, he should accept a later slot and then radically change The Tonight Show format. It was a big mistake to keep to the same design, format and content as Leno.

Oh, please, "squandered"? Conan faced the exact same issue the affiliates faced, viewers abandoning NBC in droves to avoid Leno at 10pm. It's nuts to think that Conan could somehow shore up an hour and a half of depressed ratings within 5 months.

Leno didn't have to deal with Carson playing spoiler at 10pm, and he was stepping in when NBC was at its peak. Distinct advantages. Conan's been kneecapped by the Leno experiment since before he even got to Burbank. NBC made its choice and should have the nads to stick with it, instead of this lame attempt to have Conan and eat Leno.

Besides, does ANYONE under 50 watch Leno? He's dull as dirt.

Why do ratings ramblings never mention The Daily Show and The Colbert Report despite their repeated Emmy wins in the late night category? I can't be the only person who grew up on Letterman but can't stand any of the old school Carson clone talk shows anymore.

I am sorry, I thought the show belonged to NBC. If I was his boss, I would allow him to show up every night and give him a front row seat and make him watch Jay Leno for as long as he has a contract. It seems another "Star" has forgotten who pays the bills and makes the decisions. If O'Brien doesn't like the decision, he can quit!

 
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