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Conan O'Brien Makes Statement: I Won't Host 'Tonight Show' at 12:05

by Scott Harris, posted Jan 12th 2010 3:42PM
After days of speculation about just what Conan O'Brien's next move will be, we now know what he won't be doing: moving to 12:05.

As reported by the New York Times, O'Brien, who has been on the hot seat following NBC's controversial decision to return Jay Leno to the 11:30 time slot, released a statement today, in which he announced his rejection of the network's plans to bump his 'Tonight Show' from the position it has held for over five decades.

"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," the statement read in part. "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."UPDATE: 11:45PM

During Tuesday's episode of 'The Tonight Show,' Conan O'Brien further addressed the comments he made in his statement today, in what he referred to as a "crazy day"

"Hello, my name is Conan O'Brien, and I may soon be available for children's parties," he quipped.

For more on Conan's opening monologue, visit PopEater.

ORIGINAL STORY:

After days of speculation about just what Conan O'Brien's next move will be, we now know what he won't be doing: moving to 12:05.

As reported by the New York Times, O'Brien, who has been on the hot seat following NBC's controversial decision to return Jay Leno to the 11:30 time slot, released a statement today, in which he announced his rejection of the network's plans to bump his 'Tonight Show' from the position it has held for over five decades.

"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," the statement read in part. "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."

The statement went on to add, "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."

More NBC Coverage:
What Does the Jay Leno Shake-Up Mean for David Letterman?
Amid the 'Jay Leno' Shake-Up, What Becomes of Carson Daly?
NBC Announces Proposed New Late Night Schedule

O'Brien's refusal to accommodate NBC's plans is just the latest twist in the network's ongoing late night saga, which began six years ago when executives, worried that O'Brien might bolt to Fox in order to compete against 'The Tonight Show,' signed the then host of 'Late Night' to a five-year extension with the caveat that in 2009 he would be promoted to the 'Tonight Show' chair. That change occurred last summer despite the fact that Leno was number one in the ratings and led to the creation of 'The Jay Leno Show,' a nightly variety show which airs at 10PM in place of the network's more traditional scripted programming.

The Jay Leno ShowUnfortunately for the network, their attempt to keep everyone happy has instead resulted in the alienation of both hosts and a legion of fans who have bolted for greener pastures: 'The Jay Leno Show' has delivered a whopping 45 percent drop in ratings over last year's numbers, while the weak lead in to local newscasts has angered local affiliates reliant on those broadcasts for revenue. That in turn has hurt the lead in to 'The Tonight Show,' which under O'Brien's watch has dropped nearly half of its viewership and relinquished the late night crown to rival Letterman.

Because of this, rumors surfaced late last week that NBC would be returning Leno to the 11:30 time slot following the Winter Olympics next month, a move that would see the cancellation of 'The Jay Leno Show,' the creation of a new half-hour vehicle for Leno and the shifting of 'The Tonight Show' back to 12:05, where it would compete head to head with ABC's 'Jimmy Kimmel Live.'

That plan, however, now seems to be out the window in light of O'Brien's statement, which also echoed the beliefs of many observers that O'Brien, unlike his predecessor, was never given the full opportunity to create a 'Tonight Show' suited to his unique style.

Watch Conan's Monologue From Last Night


"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."

The Tonight Show With Conan O'BrienSo what options do O'Brien and the network have going forward? For NBC, O'Brien's refusal may actually simplify matters, as it may pave the way for them to simply plug Leno back into 'The Tonight Show.' O'Brien's future, however, is murkier, though his statement may hint at his thinking. The "lucrative offers" mentioned likely originated with Fox, whose hopes of creating a late night empire with O'Brien at the center were the impetus for NBC's decisions back in 2004. At the time, O'Brien was also being courted by ABC, which has since turned to Kimmel and which recently announced that they would not be interested in hiring O'Brien if he were to leave NBC this time around.

Fox, however, remains an option, and may be the "company that values our work" that O'Brien and his staff are looking for. The main stumbling block may be, ironically, pushback from local Fox affiliates who gain significant revenue from the syndicated programming most currently run following their local news broadcasts. But O'Brien's style of comedy, while perhaps not matched to the older audiences who typically gravitate towards 'The Tonight Show,' would seem to be a perfect fit for the younger demographic that has made Fox comedies such as 'Family Guy' perennial hits. And, as a former writer on the network's cornerstone franchise, 'The Simpsons,' O'Brien already has a strong working relationship with the network.

At this point, though, the only thing fans of O'Brien and 'The Tonight Show' can be sure of is that, when the Olympics are over, he won't be airing at 12:05. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. But given how quickly these events have developed, chances are we won't have to wait long to find out what the next crazy twist will be.

And here we all thought NBC had stopped airing drama at 10.

UPDATE 11PM: During tonight's 'Jay Leno Show,' Leno made no reference to O'Brien's statement -- a surprising move, considering how vocal he has been over the past couple of days. Conan't 'Tonight Show' response, meanwhile, is pending.

Read the full statement, courtesy of the NY Times:

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

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