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War of the Words: 'Late Night' battle gets heated

January 15, 2010 | 11:59 pm


As the week progressed, the needling of NBC in the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien monologues has gotten increasingly nasty. But they're not the only ones weighing in. From fellow late-night rivals David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel to comedic peers Rosie O'Donnell and Jerry Seinfeld, the stars are sharing their thoughts on the late-night shake-up. We break down some of the choicest quotes by the day of the week:


While promoting his new reality show "Marriage Ref" in Los Angeles, onetime NBC golden child Jerry Seinfeld had something to say about the network's supposed lack of support for Conan.

"What did the network do to him?" Seinfeld asked. "I don't think anyone's preventing people from watching Conan. Once they give you the cameras, it's on you. I can't blame NBC for having to move things around. I hope Conan stays, I think he's terrific. But there's no rules in show business, there's no refs."


(Excerpts from Leno's monologue on "The Jay Leno Show")

  • "Welcome to "The Jay Leno Show.’ As you know, we’re not just a show anymore, we are now a collector's item."
  • "As you may have heard, our show has been canceled. Fired again! That shows you that NBC’s got nothing. Even when they fire people, it’s a rerun. Didn’t we just get fired in May?"
  • "I take pride in one thing. I leave NBC prime time the same way I found it — a complete disaster."

(Excerpts from O'Brien's monologue from "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien")

  • "Good evening, everybody. I'm Conan O'Brien, the new host of 'Last Call with Carson Daly.' "
  • "This weekend no one was seriously hurt, but a 6.5 earthquake hit California. The earthquake was so powerful that it knocked Jay Leno's show from 10 o'clock to 11:35."
  • "On the positive side, I have learned a valuable lesson from all this: Never sign a contract that ends with the word ‘NOT.' "


(Excerpts from Leno's monologue on "The Jay Leno Show")

  • "As I’m sure you know, NBC announced they are pulling the plug on this show Feb. 12. Here’s the amazing part: That is the exact date that the Mayan calendar predicted we would go off the air."
  • "I have to tell you, the folks here at NBC don’t handle these things well. They don’t have a lot of tact. Like after they canceled the show, they told me if I put on 10 pounds, I can get on ‘The Biggest Loser.’ That didn’t seem right."

(Excerpts from O'Brien's monologue from "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien")

  • "Hello, my name is Conan O’Brien, and I may soon be available for children’s parties."
  • "When I was a little boy, I remember watching 'The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson' and thinking 'Someday, I’m going to host that show for seven months.' "
  • "NBC says they’re planning to have the late-night situation worked out before the Winter Olympics start. And trust me, when NBC says something – you can take that to the bank!"

O'Brien's first guest on Tuesday, veteran news anchor Tom Brokaw, shared some fond memories of the red-haired host:

And nearly 20 years after David Letterman was passed over as the new host of "The Tonight Show" after Johnny Carson's departure, he still manages to find the humor in it all: "I got a call just before I came out here from NBC, and they said, ‘Look, look, we still don’t want you back.' "


(Excerpts from Leno's monologue on "The Jay Leno Show")

  • "Good news from Afghanistan. Critics of the war have stopped referring to it as ‘another Vietnam.’  They are not calling it that anymore. The bad news: They’re now calling it 'another NBC.' "
  • "Welcome to NBC — America’s most dysfunctional TV family.... You thought the Gosselins were screwed up."
  • "Nobody knows what’s going on. Conan O’Brien, understandably, is very upset. He had a statement in the paper yesterday. Conan said NBC only gave him seven months to make his show work. When I heard that ... seven months? How did he get that deal? We only got four! Who’s his agent. Get me that guy ... I’ll take seven."

(Excerpts from O'Brien's monologue from "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien")

  • "Hosting ‘The Tonight Show’ has been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me. And I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it too."
  • "Last night, the new season of ‘American Idol’ started on the Fox network and it was watched by an audience of 30 million people. When they heard that, NBC executives said 'That’s not true, there’s no such thing as an audience of 30 million people.' "


(Excerpts from Leno's monologue on "The Jay Leno Show")

  • "Welcome to the new show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Off NBC!' "
  • "In other TV news ... Sarah Palin has signed with Fox News to be a correspondent. In a statement today, Fox said if Miss Palin does a good job, they’ll sign her to a long-term contract. If she doesn’t work out, they’ll just blame Leno."
  • "With all the controversy going on here at NBC, actually "The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien’s'  ratings have gone up. So you’re welcome."

Also on Thursday night, Leno featured Kimmel on his "10 @ 10" segment, a bit where celebrities answer 10 questions via satellite. Kimmel wasted no time with his comedic attack.

"What's the secret to a good Jay Leno impression?" the host asked Kimmel, referring to the Leno get-up Kimmel wore on his late-night ABC show.

"Well, I hate to give away my secrets," Kimmel said. "But it's part Sylvester the Cat, its part Curly from the Three Stooges and part Scrappy-Doo."

And the awkward exchanges continued ...

(Excerpts from O'Brien's monologue from "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien")

  • "Hi, I’m Conan O’Brien, NBC’s Employee of the Month."
  • "There’s a rumor that NBC is so upset with me, they want to keep me off the air for three years. My response to that is, if NBC doesn’t want people to see me, just leave me on NBC."
  • "This is absolutely true — I received a letter from the adult film company Pink Visual offering me a role in one of their porno movies. In the movie I’d be having sex with a beautiful woman and just as we’re about to climax I get replaced by Jay Leno."

Over on CBS, "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson put it all into perspective (around 12:40):

While participating in an HBO panel at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, Rosie O'Donnell, whose daytime talk show on NBC aired from 1996-2002, had this to say:

"Shame on Jay Leno ... if you're privileged enough to be asked to drive the bus, you should say 'thank you' and drive it to the best of your ability. And when it's time for them to hire a new driver, you should say, 'Thank you for allowing me to drive this for as long as I did,' and pass the keys to the new guy."


(Excerpts from Leno's monologue on "The Jay Leno Show")

  • "Are you excited about the Winter Olympics next month in Vancouver? If you can’t wait until next month, stay on this channel between 10 and midnight and you will see NBC’s coverage of ‘Two Hosts Skating on Thin Ice.' "
  • "I’m getting beat up in the press. You know it’s bad when Tiger Woods calls to offer you PR advice."
  • "Even Dave Letterman is taking shots at me, which surprised me. Usually he’s just taking shots at the interns."

(Excerpts from O'Brien's monologue from "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien")

  • "Hi, I’m Conan O’Brien, future answer to a $200 'Jeopardy' question."
  • "Welcome to tonight’s show: By the time you see this, I’ll be halfway to Rio in a stolen NBC traffic copter."
  • "In the press this week, NBC has been calling me every name in the book.  In fact, they think I’m such an idiot they now want me to run the network." 
  • "According to the Nielsen Co., our ratings are way, way up this week. And that’s nothing – wait till you see what we have planned for February."

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: Conan O'Brien interviewed by Jay Leno during Leno's final taping as host of "The Tonight Show'"in Burbank on Friday, May 29, 2009. Credit. Associated Press.