'Chicken-Hearted,' 'Gutless' Conan O'Brien Reportedly Has Deal to Leave NBC


Well! The road is smoothing out a bit after arguably the most turbulent day in late-night history. While we'd already heard that next week would be Conan O'Brien's last on The Tonight Show, a report published late Thursday states that O'Brien has reached a settlement with NBC that would get him paid and allow him back on the air at a competing network within months. If, that is, the host can safely extract himself from the beak of a rabid peacock that very, very publicly chewed into him this morning.

According to The Daily Beast, dueling squads of agents, lawyers and network brass came together under the shepherding hand of Ron Meyer, the Universal Studios boss and former agent whose connections and negotiating expertise helped finesse this bloodbath to something resembling a resolution. In this settlement, NBC would pay O'Brien an undisclosed sum; it's not clear whether this amount comes from what's remaining on his Tonight Show contract or from the penalty it supposedly owes him for attempting to shift O'Brien's show to 12:05. The deal could still fall apart, but as the report (and common sense) rightly notes, it's in the battered network's best interest to get Coco off its air and off the lot as soon as legally if not humanly possible.

Meanwhile, the bloodshed has extended hilariously to Craigslist, where the flagging and reposting of O'Brien's ad selling The Tonight Show has gone on all night and should continue until a deal is officially struck. And O'Brien won't get away from the network completely unscathed, either, at least not if NBC lifer and current sports-division chief Dick Ebersol has anything to say about it -- in the New York Times:

Referring to the pointed jokes made this week by Mr. O'Brien and David Letterman of CBS, Mr. Ebersol said it was "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings."

He added that "what this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan." [...] He said he had met personally with the host three weeks before he stepped behind the Tonight desk for the first time to urge him to take steps to expand the appeal he had built up in his Late Night years, saying that NBC hosts beginning with Johnny Carson had recognized the importance of making the show appealing first and foremost to cities in the central time zone like Chicago and Des Moines.

O'Brien will no doubt find an appropriate response to this when the time is right (read: 11:35 tonight), but in the mean time, dammmmnnn. First of all, let's get this straight: Leno was the one flailing in the Nielsens, not O'Brien. NBC 's 10 p.m. hour was way down from a year prior, and both affiliate mutiny and Leno's ego forced the network's hand. Letterman may have overtaken The Tonight Show, but not because audiences in Chicago didn't get it. Nice try, though, Dick.

Furthermore, it's one thing to call your own late-night flagship captain chicken-hearted and gutless (and I wouldn't entirely disagree), but is it misreading the situation to ask Chicago and Des Moines and the rest of the central time zone if they're going to let themselves be treated like this? It sounds an awful lot like Ebersol just said something along the lines of, "You get the Tonight Show you deserve, suckers." I guess we'll see if it's really the one they want when Coco's competition lands elsewhere later year. Developing...

· Conan's Exit Confirmed [The Daily Beast]

· Executive Leaps to Leno's Defense [NYT]


  • Martini Shark says:

    If the network had set out from the beginning with the plan of screwing up this whole affair I do not think they could have been this damaging. By the end of all of this the only one coming away looking good might be Craig Ferguson. (Google him to find out). Jay back at 11:30 sounds like crap, and I have to agree with Hitler: When the network initially screwed Jay he finally had a funny bone in his body.

  • Team Carson says:

    It is pure sour grapes and undignified for Conan O'Brien to blame Jay Leno for the demise of his show. Under his stewardship and for the first time in its 40+ year history, the show dropped out of first place. He can blame Leno, NBC or the heavens but in the end, he had the show for over seven months and wasn't able to regain the ratings that Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Jay Leno held during their entire tenure. His graceless and mean-spirited exit reinforces the notion that his appeal is not universal and he should focus on finding a better vehicle for his narrower audience base. If he were truly concerned about the large staff that would be significantly affected by NBC's proposal, he could have accepted temporarily its offer to delay his show for 30 minutes so they would have enough time to make alternate arrangements. Obviously his real reason for rejecting the offer was to push Leno out entirely. He took a risk and it backfired. To blame anyone but himself is self-delusional, even if NBC handled this matter attrociously.

  • Brice says:

    Personally I prefer Conan to Jay, but I think NBC handled this about as bad as it could be handled. So here's the question - is this how Comcast will run the network, or is this why NBC was for sale in the first place?

  • ROBERT says:

    Uh, Team Carson,
    When Jay Leno started his gig on the Tonight Show, the show ALSO dropped out of first place. The writers and the producers worked hard to revamp the show to fit Jay's style. It took TWO years before the show achieved first place in the ratings. And it stayed there ever since.
    I think NBC should have given Conan's writers and producers the same kind of courtesy.
    P.S. Johnny Carson, RIP, was the best host of them all.

  • Sgt. Sanguine says:

    Yes, because if anyone knows comedy, it's Dick Ebersol. The guy who gave us the the 5th through 10th seasons of SNL (1980-1985) which everyone remembers a complete disaster. If it wasn't for Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, Dick Ebersol would've been driven out of show business thirty years ago.

  • bookwoman93 says:

    Sorry, but this is patently inaccurate. According to The Museum of Broadcast Communication, "During the Late Show's first three years, it regularly bested the Tonight Show in ratings, particularly with the under 50 crowd." That equals The Tonight Show not being in first place during the early years of Leno's reign.
    Leno was given time to build his audience and take back the ratings. Conan wasn't.

  • David says:

    Team Carson, like every Leno supporter out there, is completely inaccurate. The point has already been made that OBrien has not had time to gain a solid base of watchers, but in addition to that its already been proven that NBCs ratings have suffered in the 10 oclock hour because of Lenos show, which has affected the NBC news shows, and, in turn, also affected OBriens ratings. First off, shame on NBC for handling this so unbelievably poorly, and second, shame on Jay for continuing to hang on despite the public opinion turning against him. He has a VERY small window of opportunity to bow out gracefully, and I think by this point that window is probably gone. In just a few months his reputation, which was once respected, is probably unrepairable. He will always be remembered, not for his time on the Tonight Show, but what he did afterwards.

  • Veracity says:

    These NBC and Leno accounts leave me with more questions than answers. After reading Ebersole's diatribe, I had to wonder is he so juvenile that somewhere in this is a perverse YALE vs. HARVARD ego match? Does he even know what ethical business practices or just plain common sense are? Agree Ebersole seemed to throw a jab at Chicago - what was that? Showing up a few WEEKS before or after CONAN took the helm of THE TONIGHT SHOW after contracting with him FIVE YEARS EARLIER to offer advice shows a serious flaw in EBERSOLE, in my opinion.
    Sick to death of ANYONE trying to say that LENO is not the driver of this trainwreck! Apparently he made sure when his contract was up, he was a free agent and a worry for NBC executives like EBERSOLE. If EBERSOLE was doing his job, couldn't he find ANY ATTORNEYS to help NBC make sure Leno drove off into the sunset instead of having to worry about LENO speeding off to a new network? Ebersole trying to blame CONAN was OUTRAGEOUS!
    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for reminding all that NBC (and LENO) began marketing the "LENO 10 PM EXPERIMENT" before CONAN's premiere! Not only does that defy all business models - let's see - canabalizing your own business, wasting precious marketing resources during one of our country's most devastating economic downturns, and when the obvious happens, confuse consumers/disrupt partnerships, and blame the guy you set up! From where I sit, it looks like Leno and NBC (and EBERSOLE announced to the world he plays a HUGE role in what happens at NBC after the network gets the reins back from the local affiliates) didn't just stack the deck, their handling of it after it went public demonstrates none of them play with a full deck!

  • blah says:

    You have to love the giant egos on the morons at NBC. Wasn't Ebersole involved in the Olympics negotiations, where NBC is expected to lose 200 million this year? He should have the common sense to keep his mouth shut for a while.
    When this is all done, NBC will just have reverted back to where they were a year ago, a last place network with Leno on the Tonight Show. How many 10s of millions have NBC executives wasted over this? The negative return on investment is staggering.
    How do these guys keep their jobs?

  • Em Haggin says:

    First of all Conan's brand of humor is 5th grade level. He was sucessful in the late late show because viewers at that time slot are a strange bunch to begin with. NBC knows what they are doing (for a change).
    Let Conan go to another network, and let's see what he can do going head to head with Leno.
    He will be lucky if he lasts three months.
    Leno will once again be the king of late night, and Letterman can go back to sucking hind tit.

  • Le Retour de la Revanche du Fantôme de la Nouvelle Vague says:

    Besides what Blah and Em Haggin said, part of the audience for Conan was also stolen by The Jay Leno Show. People had the choice between a different host at the same hour and the same old host earlier. Part of them chose the host and aren't in the mood to watch a second show after that.
    And have you noticed that every late show host deeply scorns Leno? It isn't just because they like Conan. Leno weaseled his way to The Tonight Show, he uses ruthless methods to get guests (they are more or less asked not to go to a competing show during a few weeks or they're not invited back), something that was never part of the tradition. Even Johnny Carson couldn't stand him and was happy to send new material to Letterman, because he couldn't stand Leno.
    Leno might look like a consensual man but every report by insiders suggest he's a prick ready to everything to appear in the best light.
    But it's all NBC and Jeff Zucker's fault to begin with.

  • kirk says:

    I personally can't wait for the sophisticated humor of Leno to return. "Look how dumb these people are!" "These headlines are inadvertently filthy -- hilarious!" "Bring out the Dancin' Itos!"
    The only reason Leno is huge on late night is because audiences are idiots. He's the "Two and a Half Men", the "Paul Blart", the Nickelback, the Dane Cook/Jeff Dunham of TV hosts. The "Ow, My Balls!" of modern television.

  • howards turn says:

    i hate leno
    he sucks
    conan is funny, i love conan
    nbc sucks
    i will never watch anything on nbc agian
    fuck you leno and fuck you nbc
    nbc = nothing but crap
    leno is an old skunk head. what is up with that fucking stripe on his head. he looks like a fucking skunk
    letterman was funny as fuck last week busting on leno
    ferg is getting tired, might switch to watching kimmel instead of ferg
    by the way fuck you nbc and fuck you leno

  • James says:

    THREE years, actually. 😉