Conan O'Brien just released a statement saying he will not host The Tonight Show if it's pushed away from the local news. He also says the show's historic timeslot is essential to its integrity, despite DVRs and streaming video.
The story to date: The Tonight Show has aired for an incredible 55 years on NBC. It's one of a child's handful of truly legendary American shows, one that both kids and their parents grew up watching every night. Historically, it airs at 11:35, just following the late local news, and ever since Johnny Carson took over from Jack Paar in 1962, the show has been a ratings juggernaut, through Carson's 30 years and Jay Leno's 17. In 2004, NBC announced that Conan O'Brien, then hosting Late Night (following The Tonight Show), would be taking over the show five years hence. And then everything went to hell.
After 17 years of hosting The Tonight Show, Leno wasn't just about to retire with his airplane hangar of cars and his reputation as the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese of comedy: NBC gave him a daily hour-long show at 10PM. Shoehorning Leno in at 10PM, every day, was a ballsy move—and it bombed. At the same time, while critically acclaimed (check out comedian Patton Oswalt's description of Conan's Tonight Show here), the new Tonight Show was failing to achieve the ratings it had under Leno (2.8 million to Leno's 5 million). Despite past evidence that Conan just needs a little time to grow, NBC decided last week to shake up their new late-night schedule. The network proposed cutting The Jay Leno Show to a half-hour, moving it just after the local news to the 11:35 slot historically claimed by The Tonight Show, and shoving Conan's fledgling Tonight Show back a half-hour, to 12:05. Conan fans, both in the media and in the public, reacted angrily—how dare NBC push the venerable Tonight Show after midnight, just to make room for a show nobody likes? Conan himself responded on his show—check out the clips from his monologue (and from Letterman and Craig Ferguson) over here.
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Today, Conan released a statement saying he will not host The Tonight Show if it's pushed back to 12:05. It's a painful read; Conan is obviously in pain that he may have to give up his fantasy-island, dream-of-all-dreams job, but he's been fucked over through no fault of his own and NBC's left him with little choice. Our interest (as techies) is the line in his statement (copied in full, below) that despite all the new video-on-demand advances, from Hulu to BitTorrent, The Tonight Show isn't The Tonight Show if it's moved away from its 11:35 slot. I'm not so sure about that—but how do you guys feel?
Either way, we hope NBC honors its commitment to O'Brien and lets him take the reins of The Tonight Show and guide it to a new chapter, the way he was supposed to. If you feel the same way, you can use the contact info Consumerist posted to bug the hell out of NBC.
Scheduling is an important question, and one I know us tech geeks think about as we torrent, stream and rip. But, now that I think about it, there's an even more important question to be asked:
Here's that statement, in full:
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif., Jan. 12 /PRNewswire/ — Conan O'Brien released the following 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.
SOURCE Conan O'Brien