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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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NBC mum on Conan

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Conan's cunundrum

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

Comments () | Archives (60)

If we really want to show NBC how much we disagree with it's decision, let's boycott Leno's show. I know I will NEVER watch Leno at 11:35 p.m. out of sheer disgust for how the whole thing went down.

NBC made an incredible string of mistakes with their late night jewel. They should have stuck with their decision and not risked hurting the Tonight Show and Late Night shows as a key part of their brand. Conan O'brien's statement was classy and insightful. I believe Johnny Carson (the true king of late night) would be proud. NBC screwed up in 91 when they allowed Johnny Carson's job to become a point of negotiation with Jay Leno. They screwed the pooch again when they offered Leno's Job to Letterman while Leno was just warming up. They repeated the 91 screw up again in 2004 only this time with letting Obrien negotiate for Leno's seat. Now again while trying to undue this screw up they didn't let O'brien grow into the chair just like Leno needed to. Two lessons for NBC: Never let the top spot become a point for negotiation by a hopeful. When you do make a decision (and sign a contract) honor it. Keep Conan and the Tonight Show at 11:35pm where they belong.

Conan, Ferguson, Sykes. All funny, best lineup. FOX get them, eat NBC alive. Craig Ferguson is overdue for a better platform. He is extemporaneously much funnier than any of the other written shows. Kimmel has a much better Tonight show feel/better monologue than Leno has for years. Put Letterman then Kimmel on CBS. Carson whathisface is over, as is the thing on ABC (Nightline?) for people who just can't get enough crappy news in one day and want to end it on a depressing note. ABC can run a Disney show for special needs kids who are still up. CBS can rerun their evening news with Katie Couric with Comedy Science Fiction Theatre 2000 voiceovers, which would be much more watchable.

Leave Conan where he is, he earned the tonight show fare and square.

Cancel Jay's show.

give him once a week series show, 1 hour long program at 10pm

That show is "Top Gear USA", based off the a hit TV show in the UK. if you have never seen or heard about this show, it features and reviews of exotic and new automobiles from around the world, but mixes in a dash of hollywood magic into its pieces and ties it together in talk show style with celebraties and and all that jazz.

Jay already bites off one of their segments called "Star in a reasonably priced car"

I should be an NBC executive.

Now once again, Law & Order fans can get back to the business of watching INTERESTING television. Conan's making a huge mistake by not going to FOX, NBC is making a mistake by not giving "The Tonight Show" back to Jay Leno. And as long as I can watch Law & Order at 10 pm again, the rest of this is just foolishness.

This situation is a lot like Obama's health care bill. Just as Congress is hell-bent on passing that awful legislative monstrosity despite the public being 60-40 against it, very few viewers want Conan gone and Jay Leno back, but NBC seems determined to do it anyway. If there is a big Jay Leno audience out there, why weren't they watching him at 10 p.m.? Jaywalking was fun the first 600 times, but it's done.

You, NBC, are pathetic. P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C. Not only have you killed every single potentially good show you had on your hands (let me start with Freaks and Geeks), but now you're handing the black rose to The Tonight Show, the single most successful show in its category. First you booted Carson off the air (bringing in Leno instead of the popular Letterman), and now that you actually have a funny host (though no one can ever replace the great Johnny Carson), you dangle him off the edge of a cliff too. Conan is not a newbie. He has pride; hell, he's been working for you guys for over 17 years. So naturally, when you say you're going to move the time to 12:05, he's going to throw you down, leaving you with no show at all (unless you want to pull the plug on The Jay Leno Show and bring Leno back, which would make you look completely stupid and incompetent - why would you take Jay off, bring Conan on, make Conan leave, and be left with no choice than to bring Leno back on?). It's not like Conan is new and has nowhere to go. He's going to leave you guys unless you finally stop this nonsensical BS.

A concerned viewer


On another note, is the name of the president of KING-TV Seattle "Ray Heacox" or "Ray Heacock"? The article mentions both of them (and the latter seems very close to "peacock", which seems very fitting for the network he works for).

I have been watching Conan for years now. I love him to death. I dont think he should suffer for Leno's failures. Leno wanted to leave 'The Tonight Show' and like others decided to come out of retirement and he failed! They shouldn't punish Conan for Lenos faults. He is one of the funnest and classiest guys on TV along with respectable and real. He's attracts the younger crowd, unlike Leno, who will be running this country in the future. I think what NBC is doing is wrong but doesn't surprise me because NBC is close to last place in the rankings vs CBS or AbC etc... Go to Hell NBC you are failures...

I think part of the reason for Conan's low ratings was an expectation from viewers that his new show would not live up to Late Night. The Tonight Show has always been a bit of a bore. It's earlier in the evening, when the folks whose sensibilities shouldn't be offended are still awake. It's very buttoned-down. The jokes are "safe," not outrageous or daring. Instead, Late Night was willing to take risks and experiment to generate laughs, since it was so late at night and because Conan was unknown. How can you transition the Masturbating Bear or Pimpbot 5000 to The Tonight Show?

Aside from this problem, Conan sort of lost his edge in the latter years of Late Night, especially after Andy Richter left in 2000. If Late Night wasn't all that funny anymore, how could The Tonight Show be worth watching?

I don't understand why NBC is treating Leno like he's still The Franchise. He agreed to leave the Tonight Show and took a gamble on prime time. It didn't work. On any other TV network this means once you're cancelled, you're gone. Goodbye. Later. See ya. Times change, tastes change. He had a good 17 year run. It's Conan's turn.

If Leno had any class he'd follow the example of his predecessor Johnny Carson and leave gracefully. Hell, if Carson had it his way, Leno wouldn't even have been the next host...it would have been Letterman. So Leno should be happy for what he had, and bow out with some dignity. He could help clean up this mess and allow Conan to stay where he deserves to be.

The REAL shake-up should be among the pinheads in management who can't even find decent prime time programming.

I am a big Conan fan but I am hardly sympathetic. When there are record high unemployment numbers and families are struggling to eat I don't have sympathy for an overpaid talk show host with a $10.5 million home. I can certainly understand what a professional set back this is, but Conan should put his problems in perspective.

go to these links - spread the word & SAVE THE TONIGHT SHOW w/ Conan
tell NBC to let Jay Leno go


http://www.nbc.com/contact/general/ - send a message to NBC directly


SPREAD THE WORD ASAP - it is NOT too late -
email your local newspaper editors and/ or local NBC stations

be proactive & support Conan
the decision makers at NBC do not read these or other websites but they do respond to direct email sent to NBC & online petitions that get enough signatures -

use the subject line - KEEP CONAN, fire Jay Leno - short & simple
email all the following TOP EXECUTIVE people directly @ NBC

JOHN.ECK@nbc.com, Jeff.Gaspin@nbc.com, JEFF.ZUCKER@nbc.com, jeff.zucker@nbcuni.com, STEVE.CAPUS@nbc.com, ALLISON.GOLLUST@nbc.com, PAULA.MADISON@nbc.com, CORY.SHIELDS@nbc.com, JOHN.WALLACE@nbc.com, David.Verdi@nbc.com, Jeff.Zucker@nbc.com, Bob.Wright@nbc.com, LYNN.CALPETER@nbc.com, DICK.EBERSOL@nbc.com, MARK.HOFFMAN@nbc.com, MICHAEL.PILOT@nbc.com, david.verdi@nbc.com, MARC.CHINI@nbcuni.com, Alyssa.Corcoran@nbcuni.com, MICHAEL.BASS@nbcuni.com, MICHAEL.PILOT@nbcuni.com, Ron.Lamprecht@nbcuni.com

You can also call Jeff Zucker, President and CEO of NBC Universal at 212-664-2830.

don't wait do it ASAP - to the executives - every phone call or email represents like 1,000 or more people

Hey Conan! With all the jobs people have lost this past year... why wouldn't you just be happy for having one! That probably pays you a lot of money!

conan o'brien is so predictably unfunny that he can only appeal to a generation culturally malnourished enough to suck a plastic teet

Please, let him go hide in the simpson's wallpaper and see if that high tide can obscure his lack of talent, oh how I resent the pain he has put my sensibilities through, he is really as excruciating as Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle or a dental extraction

It's enough to make me feel contempt for his audience, and yet they are also the saddest thing I've ever witnessed, imagine being deprived of a genuine laugh for so long you couldn't recognize what was funny...

life really is unfair


"Late Night With Conan O'Brien" at it's best was pure, unadulterated genius. "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" at it's best is merely ok. I was a lot sadder to see Conan leave @ 12:35 than I will be sad to see Coco leave @ 11:35.

DIFFERENCE between Johnny Carson & Leno: CLASS; Leno has NONE! JOHNNY knew WHEN to bow out. LENO never deserved to replace Johnny. Then, NBC screwed MILLIONS of loyal 10pm viewers for Jay’s EGO. JAY was OVER years ago. NBC didn’t have FAITH in its programs to let Jay go. Jay over viewers? Bad choice. NOW, pandering to JAY again, NBC throws Conan under the bus. Sacrificing VIEWERS (again) for stupid JAY. IS JAY LENO JOHNNY CARSON? Not in a MILLION years! But, stupid NBC TREATS JAY “AS IF” he were Carson himself. STUPID NBC deserves to lose EVERY VIEWER & all smart advertisers.
Conan's agents are the BIGGEST, toughest …THEIR reputations are on the line -NOT CONAN'S. If WME was STUPID - the blame falls on WME for screwing up --NOT guaranteeing the time slot. Conan is right, "the WORLD is watching" – ENDEAVOR.

Funny the reason the local affiliate's news show ratings are down is because of a weak prime time lead in, which just happens to be Jay Leno. So the reason Conan has lower ratings is because Jay Leno is a weak lead in so instead of firing the weak lead in they want to move him to Conan's time slot. Jay Leno must have something on some of the NBC executives. Put in a good police or medical drama at 10 PM then both the local affiliate news show and Conan's ratings go up. The problem is Leno. That said I watch Letterman.

Conan we have a slot for you on Late Night right at Kelsey Grammer's new Branded Social Television Network www.KelseyLive.com so join the trend!

Leaving "Tonight" never was Leno's idea, and it was NBC that kept Leno from leaving for ABC.

O'Brien is no victim. He kissed off an offer from Fox in 2001 because he wanted "Tonight." Then, suspecting Leno might never retire, and unwilling to wait his turn, O'Brien thought he had forced NBC's hand by securing the guarantee in 2004 he would get "Tonight" in '09.

O'Brien had close to 17 years to build his own audience, many of whom followed him to "Tonight" , and many of Leno's viewers went with him to 10 pm. Leno was Carson's backup host, he didn't have the built in advantage that O'Brien had (and squandered) of having his own show to build a following with.

You can't predict what an audience will do; Howard Stern bet the ranch that the majority of his audience would follow him anywhere, including pay radio.
They didn't. Katie Couric bet that many of her viewers from "Today" would follow her to CBS. They didn't. Conan bet that he could keep most of Jay's viewers-he didn't. Not that many people interested in masturbating bears.

Go ahead, take your ball and leave, dude; Jay kicked Dave's ass, he'll kick yours, too.

The "lead in" excuse just doesnt fly.
Letterman used that for years but still trailed after CBS ratings domination.

I think NBC was shocked to see Conan do so poorly in the ratings following Leno's reign. Leno isnt exactly Carson and I think NBC expected a smoother ratings transition.

Conan is a victim of the 11:35 time slot. Leno was better at adapting to the "Tonight Show" formula than Conan.
I feel Conan was somewhat exposed in that time slot. He isnt naturally funny was once thought. His writers have let him down as well.
Even Conan fans have to admit the show has been somewhat of a disappointment.
Conan should take his millions and get a fresh start at FOX

I think Andy is Conando's bad luck charm!

NBC has really screwed up bigtime in this debacle. I feel for Conan, even though I'm not a big fan.

Craig Ferguson is the brightest light of them all. He's infinitely funnier and more inventive than all the others combined. Where else can you hear references to Thomas Aquinas and Flaubert mixed in with fart jokes and double entendres...love him, love his show!

Not strategy Mr. Polone? This whole thing is strategy that's your job just like it was your strategy that got him the Late Show 17 years ago and forced NBC's hand to give Conan the Tonight Show a few years ago.

NBC handled this badly but you can't say that talent 'teams' didn't have a hand in it as well. Its really sad what all of you have done to the Tonight Show.

Why does NBC want to keep Leno? I thought the ratings have spoken. He's not funny, he's never been funny. The Tonight Show has sucked long before Johnny Carson left. NBC's executives need to grow a spine and fire both and get someone that has a sense of humor that can find someone that's actually funny. Then send them over to the studio's for SNL because they have the same problem.

Conans smart about all of this. He's not going to quit. He's waiting for them to fire him so he can't get a big buy out and then sign with competing station to take veiwers away from leno. Then leno will be sitting with less viewers than lettermen and conan

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