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NBC mum on Conan O'Brien, except to say they think he'll be on tonight

January 12, 2010 |  2:02 pm

Conan O'Brien has spoken his mind, but NBC is still holding its tongue.

The network has not issued a response to O'Brien's statement that he is willing to walk away from his job as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" if the network moves it from its longtime home of 11:35 p.m. to 12:05 a.m. 

Although O'Brien announced he would not play ball (see statement below) if NBC followed through on its plan to move his show to make room for Jay Leno to return from prime time to late night, and took several swipes at General Electric Co.'s NBC in the process, the network said it had no plans to respond, at least at this point. It appears the statement caught the network unprepared, just as it was caught off guard last week when the news of all this leaked. An insider did say they expect O'Brien would do his show tonight. NBC might be betting that a disgruntled Conan O'Brien is better for ratings than a rerun of his show.

CONAN3 O'Brien's statement goes on at length about his frustration with the current situation. "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."

O'Brien's statement is the latest twist to a story that started in 2004 when NBC announced it would replace Jay Leno with him as host of the No. 1-rated "The Tonight Show" in 2009. The move was seen as defensive as O'Brien was being wooed by Fox and NBC was betting that by 2009 Leno also would be ready to step down and America would want a younger host.

Alas, Leno's ratings continued to be strong, and when he was toying with going to a competitor, NBC opted to give Leno a show in prime time at 10 p.m. That show, however, did not perform well enough for the network's affiliates. With O'Brien not doing as well as Leno's, NBC hatched a plan to slip Leno back into late night while trying to keep O'Brien in the fold.

After several days of intense talks between NBC and O'Brien's camp including his agents at WME and his lawyer Leigh Brecheen, no deal has been reached. Leno, in the meantime, signed on to the strategy pretty quickly and now will likely end up as host of "The Tonight Show" once again.

O'Brien concluded his statement by saying, "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."

-- Joe Flint

Related Post:

Conan's conundrum

Here is the text of Conan O'Brien's 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.

Yours,

Conan

Photo: Evan Agnosti / Associated Press

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