What Really Went Down During the Conan vs. Leno Brawl: Juiciest Quotes From 'The War for Late Night'

Conan OBrien Returns to Television

We all saw it play out during the dawn of 2010: Conan O'Brien vs. Jay Leno, the no-holds-barred, on-air battle royal that turned the realm of late-night TV into something more like a WWE wrestling ring.

But you don't know the half of it.

Bill Carter's new book, "The War for Late Night," reveals what happened behind the scenes, the expletives that were hurled during closed-door discussions, the roller coaster that O'Brien, Leno, and their cohorts rode during that tumultuous time. Carter, the television reporter for The New York Times, also drops little-known tidbits about late-night TV's stars (Leno wears Payless shoes? David Letterman's staff thinks he needs mental help?) and uncovers who these men are when they're not slinging the jokes that put Americans to bed at night.

Of course, the war's only just begun. Today's release of Carter's book coincides with the debut of O'Brien's new late-night show on TBS, a potential battering ram to the other network's post-11:00 p.m. offerings.

Below, check out 15 juicy excerpts from "The War for Late Night:"

The Battle Over 'The Tonight Show'

On O'Brien's reaction when NBC executives asked him to start "The Tonight Show" at 12:05 a.m. so Leno could do a half-hour-long show before him: Conan did have something he really wanted to say, something that had been almost burning a hole in his chest. "What does Jay have on you?" Conan asked, his voice still low, his tone still even. "What does this guy have on you people? What the hell is it about Jay?" Neither of the NBC executives has an answer. They cast their heads down. Conan thought they were working at looking sympathetic, following some lesson that had been taught at corporate school.

On Jeff Zucker's (NBC's then president and CEO) exchange with Richard Rosen (O'Brien's agent) about O'Brien not jumping at the midnight deal: "Let me explain something to you," Zucker said. "I want a f***ing answer from you. If you think you are going to play me in the press, you've got the wrong guy. You're a representative of Conan O'Brien, aren't you?" ... "I want an answer from Conan and I want an answer quickly. You know I have the ability to pay him or play him, and I could ice him for two years."

"Well, Jeff," Rosen said, "we're going to give you an answer when we have thought about it. If you want an emotional answer, I'll give you an answer now. If you want the answer after we've thought about it and we've analyzed it, you'll get that answer."

Zucker remained hot. "Just let me tell you something -- you are not going to f***ing play me."

On O'Brien's decision to release his "People of Earth" public statement and bow out of the "Tonight Show" job: "Let's all be aware of this -- we're about to blow this f***er up, Ross [Jeff Ross, O'Brien's executive producer] said, full of portent. "This is going to blow this f***ing thing up." There was only one reaction that mattered, only one pair of eyes for Ross to check out. Conan stood outlined by the doorway of the conference room, his swoop of copper hair almost touching the fame. He looked directly at Ross, unblinking. "Blow it up," he said.

On how O'Brien felt in the wake of "Team Coco" and his massive online following: The outpouring of support made Conan feel as if he was starring in his own version of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," both because he was allowed to see a "Tonight Show" where he never existed and because the support made him realize he really was "the richest man in town."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...