Conan O'Brien won't give up 'Tonight Show' time slot to make room for Jay Leno
PASADENA, CALIF. -- In what might be a move to leave NBC on his own terms, Conan O'Brien declared Tuesday that he would refuse to host "The Tonight Show" if the network carries through on its plans to move "Tonight" to 12:05 a.m.
O'Brien, who took over the iconic show from Jay Leno only seven months ago, upped the stakes in the gamesmanship that's been unfolding since at least Sunday, when NBC canceled Leno's prime-time weeknight show, reverting it to the 11:35 spot and lopping it to just a half-hour.
"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," O'Brien said in a statement wryly addressed to the "People of Earth."
"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," O'Brien added.
"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."
O'Brien gave no indication of what's next for him, but said he hopes his home network of 16 years will change its mind.
"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."
NBC, though declining to respond to O'Brien, did confirm that O'Brien would go ahead and tape his usual Tuesday night show.
"Hello, my name is Conan O'Brien, and I may soon be available for children's parties," O'Brien said at the top of Tuesday's show.
"Welcome to NBC, where our new slogan is "No longer just screwing up prime-time."
The network's plan to scuttle Leno's 10 p.m. comedy series and shift the host back to late night came only after a disgruntled outcry in December from NBC stations about Leno's disappointing numbers.
"We realized this is just not going to go well if we kept things in place," NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin told TV reporters gathered here on Sunday for the Winter TV Press Tour.