Conan O'Brien Quits, Declares He Won't Do 'Tonight Show' at Later Time

In a statement, Conan O'Brien says he won't do "The Tonight Show" at later time.

January 12, 2010, 12:05 PM

Jan. 12, 2010 — -- Conan O'Brien is out.

In a statement released today, the late night comedian, whom NBC planned to unceremoniously oust from his 11:35 p.m. ET time slot come February, said he will not do "The Tonight Show" if his new airtime is 12:05 a.m. He did not make clear whether or not he plans to stay with NBC.

O'Brien is scheduled to tape a new "Tonight Show" this evening. According to industry Web site, NBC veteran Tom Brokaw is scheduled to be his first guest. As audiences wait to hear what O'Brien might say about the fiasco, the comedian has turned into a trending topic on Twitter, with fans voicing support for "Team Conan."

Below, the full text of O'Brien's 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.



Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien Bash NBC

Both Jay Leno and O'Brien had some not-so-nice things to say about their network Monday night.

The comics, whose talk show schedules have been thrown off by NBC's decision to move Leno back to 11:35 p.m. ET, the time slot now occupied by O'Brien, addressed the TV turmoil at the top of their shows.

Leno started off his 10 p.m. ET prime time show with the quip, "But you know, we're not just a show anymore, we are now a collector's item.

"As you may already know, our show has been canceled, fired again," he went on. "See, that shows you NBC's got nothing, even when they fire you, it's a rerun. Didn't we just get fired in May?"

Leno's first guest Monday night, Bill Cosby, got in on the action, teasing, "Your ratings are so bad I thought we were going backward."

Following Leno, O'Brien told his applauding audience, "If you keep that up, this monologue won't start until 12:05.

"This weekend, a 6.5 earthquake hit California. The earthquake was so powerful it knocked Jay Leno's show from 10 p.m. to 11:35," adding, "I plan to put on a great show night after night while stealing as many office supplies as humanly possible."

Oh, but he wasn't done yet. O'Brien went on to detail 11 things he could do in the wake of NBC's decision to move him out of the 11:35 p.m. slot to 12:05. Among them:

-- Star in a Lifetime original movie about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her network.

-- Go to ABC and star in a male redhead version of "Cougartown" called "Redwolf Village."

-- Host a show on B.E.T. called, "White All Night."

-- Move to FOX and follow their hit "24" with a new show called, "24:05"

-- Televise my own colonoscopy on the Bravo Channel in a show called "Project Funway."

-- Pretend to put my son in a giant foil balloon, then sit back and watch the offers come pouring in.

-- Leave television altogether and work in a classier business with better people, like hard-core porn.

It's hard to blame the comedians for being a tad bitter. But at least one prominent comic defended NBC's controversial shakeup of its late-night stars: Jerry Seinfeld.

Seinfeld, whose iconic sitcom aired on the network during the '90s and '00s, praised NBC's vision in moving Leno to primetime, even if the gamble didn't quite work out as planned.

"This was the right idea at the wrong time," Seinfeld said while promoting his new reality show, "The Marriage Ref," in Los Angeles Sunday. "I'm proud that NBC had the guts to try something."

Seinfeld also said O'Brien will emerge from the wreckage unscathed.

"What did the network do to him?" Seinfeld asked. "I don't think anyone's preventing people from watching Conan. Once they give you the cameras, it's on you. I can't blame NBC for having to move things around. I hope Conan stays, I think he's terrific. But there's no rules in show business, there's no refs."

It remains to be seen if O'Brien will stay with the network that made him a star of if he'll fly the coop. He's reportedly exploring his options with Fox, but Monday, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly told reporters that his network is waiting for O'Brien to determine his own fate with NBC before making an offer.

"I love Conan personally and professionally. But right now, he has to make a decision," Reilly said.

NBC Pulls Plug on Leno's Primetime Experiment

Amid sinking ratings and worried affiliates, NBC announced Sunday that the Jay Leno primetime experiment will end Feb. 12.

NBC confirmed Sunday that it will yank the comic's 10 p.m. nightly hour once the Winter Olympics begin, and it hopes he will accept a half-hour version of his show at his old time -- 11:35 p.m. -- instead.

"While it was performing at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet our affiliates' needs and we realized we had to make a change," NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin said at the NBC winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday.

"What happened starting in November [was] the affiliates called, saying, 'Wow, wow, our local news is being affected more than we expected,'" Gaspin said.

NBC has spoken to Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon about moving their shows to later start times, Gaspin said. Under the proposal, O'Brien, the man who replaced Leno as host of "The Tonight Show," would move to 12:05 a.m., and Fallon to 1:05 a.m.

"My goal right now is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy as part of our late-night lineup," Gaspin said. "As much as I would like to tell you we have a done deal, we know that's not true. The talks are still ongoing."

Last week, amid a firestorm of speculation that NBC might can O'Brien altogether, the network released a statement this week declaring its loyalty to the late-night comic.

"We remain committed to keeping Conan O'Brien on NBC," the network said in a statement Thursday evening. "He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years, and is one of the most respected entertainers on television."

ABC News' David Alpert and Brian Rooney contributed to this report.