After a few days of speculation and no shortage of suggestions from the universe at large, Conan O’Brien announced today that if “The Tonight Show” will be on at 12:05, then he won’t be hosting it.
“Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over ‘The Tonight Show’ in June of 2009,” O’Brien said in a statement addressed to the “People of Earth.” “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,” he continued. “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.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a tumultuous few days for NBC. The network announced that “The Jay Leno Show,” which was supposed to be a low-cost savior at 10 p.m., would be pulled off the air, with Leno returning to the 11:35 slot currently inhabited by O’Brien and “The Tonight Show.” NBC had planned to move O’Brien’s show back a half hour to 12:05, but after thinking it through (and bashing NBC during his monologue on Monday night), O’Brien has decided that he will not play ball.
“For 60 years ‘The Tonight Show’ has aired immediately following the late local news,” the statement continued. “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.’ ”
O’Brien also noted that his move to 12:05 would also hurt Jimmy Fallon, whose “Late Night” show follows “The Tonight Show” at 12:35. “That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy,” he said.
O’Brien summed it up thusly: “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.”
He added that he has no immediate plans for the future and has had no offers from other networks. The statement then wraps up in typical Conan fashion, both with grace and humor: “Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.”