NBC’s late-night woes continue. After executives announced they would trim The Jay Leno Show to 30 minutes and move it from 10 p.m. to 11:35 p.m. — pushing back The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien to 12:05 a.m. — Conan said he would not continue hosting the show at that hour.
“Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009,” said O’Brien in a statement. “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.
“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,” continued O’Brien. “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.”
Just yesterday, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said the network was waiting for a decision from Conan before it could potentially move forward with its proposed late-night talker on Fox.
O’Brien addressed the subject of other offers: “There has been speculation about my going to another network, but 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.”
NBC has not yet responded to Conan’s statement. But there is speculation, of course, that Jay Leno will now return as host of The Tonight Show. If that does indeed happen, the next question is whether his recent late-night audience will return.