2010 Tonight Show conflict
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In early 2010, American television network NBC and two of its late-night talk show hosts, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno, engaged in a media and public relations conflict over the host and airtime of The Tonight Show, the network's long-running late night program. On January 7, 2010, NBC announced that effective March 1, 2010, Leno's program The Jay Leno Show would be moved from the 10:00 pm weeknight time slot to 11:35 pm and O'Brien's program The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien would be moved from 11:35 pm to 12:05 am. The scheduling change was attributed to poor ratings of both shows and resultant pressure from NBC affiliates and NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker. Though not a breach of either host's contract, the change resulted in a public outcry and public demonstrations largely in support of O'Brien.
Shortly after NBC made the schedule change proposal, O'Brien indicated that he would quit his show and leave the network if NBC were to implement it, citing the "destruction" of the venerable franchise which had aired at or around 11:30 pm for over 60 years. The controversy surrounding the scheduling move, described by media outlets as "embarrassing" for the network and a "public relations disaster", led to public support for O'Brien from fellow late-night talk-show hosts and other celebrities along with protests on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
O'Brien's departure was officially confirmed by NBC on January 21, 2010, after nearly two weeks of negotiations. His final show aired Friday, January 22, and he along with his staff received a total of $45 million to walk away from the network ($33 million for O'Brien, $12 million for the staff, with the exception of Andy Richter and Max Weinberg).
- 1 Background
- 2 Ratings
- 3 Proposed changes and reaction
- 4 Media coverage and reaction
- 5 Aftermath for O'Brien
- 6 See also
- 7 References
|“||Would I have preferred to stay at 11:30? Yeah, sure. I would have preferred that.||”|
—Leno in a November 2009 interview
On September 27, 2004, the 50th anniversary of The Tonight Show's debut, NBC announced that Jay Leno would be succeeded by Conan O'Brien in 2009. Shortly before this, it was widely publicized that Conan had been courted by several networks including ABC and Fox, to move to an earlier time slot, so the offer was hastily made by NBC, as they did not want to lose him and his popularity to another network. Leno stated that he did not want to see a repeat of the hard feelings and controversy that occurred when he was chosen to host the show instead of David Letterman following Johnny Carson's retirement.
It was announced on July 21, 2008 that Jay Leno would host his final episode of The Tonight Show on Friday, May 29, 2009. O'Brien took over hosting duties commencing the following Monday, on June 1, 2009. NBC, afraid of losing Leno to another network, gave him a new nightly prime time series, The Jay Leno Show, which debuted in September 2009.
The first episode of The Jay Leno Show earned fast national estimates of 17.7 million viewers, an 11 Nielsen rating (5.1 among persons 18–49) and an 18 share. By its second week, and with the show airing directly opposite season premieres, Leno's audience fell to six million viewers. The Jay Leno Show averaged a 1.98 in the adults 18–49 ratings and 6.594 million viewers. The ratings continued to fall, but roughly came to a stasis at Leno's previous audience of about 5 million. While these ratings were detrimental compared to the competition, this was still within NBC's projections of how they expected the show to do, and the show was significantly cheaper to produce than five scripted primetime shows. However, by October 2009 the Los Angeles Times reported that the ratings for many high-rated local news broadcasts over various NBC affiliates had fallen. Local affiliates blamed The Jay Leno Show for its poor lead-in.
Meanwhile, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien saw strong ratings at its premiere, but a month later it was regularly losing overall viewership to The Late Show. The ratings slide of overall viewers was such that from August 13–19, 2009, Letterman's repeats were beating new O'Brien episodes, albeit with the thinnest of margins. The repeats got a 2.1/6 household rating and 2.95 million total viewers, vs. The Tonight Show’s 2.0/5 rating and 2.94 million viewers; both were beaten that week by Nightline's 3.25 million. By early September, before The Jay Leno Show premiered, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien had lost the overall viewer ratings for eight consecutive weeks. However in the key 18–49 demographic O'Brien had maintained a solid lead.
By November 2009, two months after the premiere of The Jay Leno Show, ratings for The Tonight Show were down "roughly two million viewers a night year-to-year" from when Leno hosted the program. However, it was widely theorized that Conan's rating shift was a result of a lead-in from The Jay Leno Show, whose low ratings for a prime-time show resulted in a poor lead-in for the local news, causing a domino effect on ratings for The Tonight Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which itself had lower ratings than The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on average every week since September 2009. Furthermore, the ratings turn before Leno's return were theorized to be a result of the various scandals surrounding Letterman at the time, causing a heightened interest in that show, beginning with a comment Letterman made about Sarah Palin's daughter, as well as the sex scandal involving Letterman and female staff members.
According to NBC, if O'Brien continued hosting, it would have been the first year that The Tonight Show would have actually lost money, which Leno later contended was damaging to the franchise. This assertion was scorned by skeptical critics as it was calculated that Conan's Tonight Show would have made significantly more money in advertising than Leno's show did, due to his more favorable youth demographic numbers. Also Leno's larger staff, higher production costs and higher salary would have by all accounts made Leno's Tonight Show more costly.
During the Oprah interview, Leno later attributed the time shift being as a result of both his and O'Brien's poor ratings and its effect on the affiliates. Leno attributed this affiliate dissatisfaction as his reason for not feeling guilty for taking the show from O'Brien, though critics pointed out that affiliates never had a problem with Conan's ratings, only having a problem with Jay's disastrous lead-in.
Proposed changes and reaction
The Jay Leno Show generated mediocre ratings, and several NBC affiliates complained that it was hurting their newscasts' ratings. In January 2010, NBC decided that Leno's show should be moved to 11:35 and shortened from an hour to 30 minutes. O'Brien's Tonight contract allowed this move, since it stipulated that NBC could air the show as late as 12:05 a.m. (Eastern and Pacific) without penalty, a loophole included primarily to accommodate sports preemptions and specials such as the network's New Year coverage. All NBC late night programming had already been scheduled to be preempted for two weeks between February 15 and February 26 to allow the broadcasting of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The decision to make the move following Olympic coverage was finalized by NBC on January 10.
The permanent shift to 12:05 left O'Brien with no legal recourse other than to follow Leno indefinitely or leave the network. TMZ reported that O'Brien was given no advance notice of the change, and that NBC had offered him two choices: the hour-long 12:05 am time slot as the continuing host of The Tonight Show, or the option to leave the network. If O'Brien chose to leave, Leno would likely regain the Tonight Show title as well as the full 11:35 pm to 12:35 am time slot. If O'Brien chose to stay, the addition of The Jay Leno Show would not only bump his own show, but also result in moving Late Night with Jimmy Fallon back by thirty minutes, and likely knock Last Call with Carson Daly from the late night lineup altogether.
The day after the change was announced, the New York Times spoke with an anonymous Fox executive, who said that the company felt O'Brien "would be a great fit for Fox." ABC later stated they felt no need to add O'Brien to their late night schedule, which already contains Nightline and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Comedy Central, HBO, and TBS had also expressed interest in O'Brien.
O'Brien rejects the 12:05 am slot
|Wikinews has related news: US TV host Conan O'Brien rejects NBC's offer to switch his show's time slot|
On January 12, O'Brien issued a press release that stated he would not continue on with the NBC program if it moved to a 12:05 am time slot, saying,
I 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.
Until the final episode, O'Brien had yet to seriously comment on-air about these events or their possible consequences, limiting any mention of them to jokes made during his monologues. As the controversy developed, O'Brien made it clear that he would not be on-air for long, and poked fun of his show's brief life, such as showing "classic" clips from his seven-month tenure as host.
Counteraction from NBC
On January 15, All Headline News reported that NBC intended to keep O'Brien off the air completely for three and a half years unless he agreed to NBC's terms. Insiders for both NBC and O'Brien reportedly dismissed the notion as "ludicrous", commenting, "He has two and a half years left on his deal. How would they even do that?" NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker made the threat with the belief that O'Brien's contract contains a clause that allows the network to bench him for an additional one year after his contract expires, known legally as a non-compete clause, although such a condition is generally unlawful in the state of California. An insider on O'Brien's side countered that NBC would be in breach of an addendum to the contract if The Tonight Show were moved to a later time slot.
NBC could potentially retain intellectual property originating from O'Brien's entire 17-year tenure with the network, including segments and characters such as the Masturbating Bear, In the Year 3000, and Conando. This also includes the rights to one of the best known characters created during O'Brien's tenure at NBC, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. NBC also kept David Letterman's intellectual property rights when he left the network in 1993, though he circumvented the restrictions by changing names of sketches. O'Brien has done the same for his tour, turning the Masturbating Bear into the Self-Pleasuring Panda. The Washington Post reported that retaining the characters is "not a key issue for O'Brien." However, this would prove not to be the case when O'Brien announced he would move to TBS in November, NBC announced that they "wished Conan the best" and he would be allowed to take his old bits to his new show, Conan.
On January 19, multiple media outlets reported that O'Brien and NBC were close to signing a deal between $30 and $40 million for the host to walk away from the network. After two weeks of negotiations, on January 21, it was announced that Conan O'Brien had signed a $45 million deal to leave NBC. The Wall Street Journal reported that O'Brien will receive about $32 million, with his staff receiving around $12 million. However, announcer-sidekick Andy Richter and bandleader Max Weinberg would need to negotiate their own agreements with the network. O'Brien paid around 50 stagehands and various crew members at least six weeks severance pay out of his own pocket, as NBC gave those particular staffers nothing in the settlement. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has said that they were "very happy" with how O'Brien treated his employees during the conflict.
The contract contains a clause prohibiting O'Brien from making negative remarks about NBC for a certain amount of time; it does not, however, contain the previously rumored "mitigation clause", in which NBC would be able to keep some of the severance pay after O'Brien finds a new program. It also stipulates that he may return to television on another network no earlier than September 1, 2010. The network confirmed that Leno would officially resume as host of The Tonight Show on March 1. NBC reran episodes from O'Brien's time as host until the network began airing the Olympics on February 15.
O'Brien's final week of shows
Once it was made public that January 22 would likely be O'Brien's last Tonight Show episode, a number of particularly well-known celebrities were booked to be guests on the program, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Robin Williams, and Adam Sandler. One absentee was Howard Stern, a vociferous and vocal critic of Leno; in his book The War for Late Night, Bill Carter revealed that Conan's NBC buyout specifically included a clause banning Stern from appearing during the show's final week.
Musical guests for the final week of episodes included Spoon and Barry Manilow. The guests for the final episode were Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, and musical guest Neil Young. Ferrell was O'Brien's first guest when he began The Tonight Show in June 2009; Hanks appeared on the second episode.
In addition, a number of unannounced celebrities "dropped by" during various segments of the show. On January 13, Jack McBrayer appeared briefly in character as NBC page Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock, interrupting O'Brien's monologue while showing a tour group around the studio, noting to them that, "NBC spent more time building this studio than using it." On January 19, Norm Macdonald walked onstage with a large gift basket, and read aloud from a greeting card he claimed he had been putting off giving O'Brien since June: "Congratulations on finally securing your place as permanent host of The Tonight Show. That's something they can never take away from you." Ed Helms appeared on the January 20 program and performed a version of "Stu's Song" from The Hangover, with lyrics written to apply to O'Brien's NBC troubles. Ben Stiller and Paul Reubens (in character as Pee-wee Herman) made brief, unannounced stops on the show on January 21, and on the last show, Steve Carell made a cameo appearance as an NBC employee, in a small nod to Up in the Air, conducted Conan's exit interview and destroyed Conan's NBC ID badge with a paper shredder.
The January 20 episode included a sketch in which O'Brien unveiled a Bugatti Veyron dressed as a mouse, accompanied by the original master recording of the song "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones in the background. O'Brien claimed that the car and music licensing fees ("not to mention the rights to re-air this clip on the Internet") would cost NBC $1.5 million. It was later revealed that the car was on loan from the Petersen Automotive Museum. The segment was subsequently cut from internet versions of the episode posted on Hulu and NBC.com, apparently to avoid paying the licensing fees required for the song.
The theme of supposedly "expensive" show content continued on the January 21 show, this time featuring 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird wearing a mink Snuggie and watching restricted Super Bowl footage, a sketch O'Brien claimed cost NBC $4.8 million to air. In the final episode on January 22, O'Brien performed a sketch featuring a fossil skeleton of a ground sloth from the Smithsonian Institution with a hose that sprayed beluga caviar on an original Pablo Picasso painting, which purportedly cost NBC $65 million. In response to the Internet community's outcry over the expense of these sketches in light of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, O'Brien explained that the segments were a joke, and that things like the Picasso painting were fakes.
The final episode
The final episode aired on January 22 and extended to January 23. In his final moments on air, O'Brien stated that between Saturday Night Live, Late Night and The Tonight Show, he had worked for NBC for over 20 years, and that he was "enormously proud of the work they have done together" and thanked NBC for the first time since announcing his intention to quit. O'Brien said his decision to quit as host was "the hardest thing [he] ever had to do." He praised and gave thanks to his staff, and thanked his fans (specifically those who participated in the Los Angeles rally) for their overwhelming support and offered heartfelt advice to his viewers in his farewell address, stating:
All I ask of you is one thing... I ask this particularly of the young people who watch. Please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen.
Neil Young performed his song "Long May You Run" on this last episode. At the end of the episode, Beck, Will Ferrell (dressed as Ronnie Van Zant), Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, O'Brien, Viveca Paulin, and The Tonight Show Band teamed up to perform "Free Bird" to close out the show's 7-month run.
10.3 million people watched the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, a notably high number for live late-night viewing and for a Friday night. The final episode scored a 7.0 household rating and a 4.4 rating in the 18–49 demo. Not only did O'Brien's final show beat all late night competition, it outscored all prime time shows in the 18–49 demo from that night and the night before.
Media coverage and reaction
The New York Times reported the majority of online support was overwhelmingly in favor of O'Brien; in the days following the switch announcement, 88% of related Twitter posts expressed support for O'Brien. Over one million people joined two most prominent Facebook groups supporting O'Brien, "Team Conan" and "I'm With CoCo." Artist Mike Mitchell designed a poster reminiscent of the Obama "Hope" poster depicting O'Brien superimposed with an American flag in the background with the caption "I'm With Coco". The poster was widely circulated and displayed on the web and at various rallies. The color orange also became the choice of color for fans of Conan, referencing his light orange hair.
Rallies in support of O'Brien were organized outside NBC studios across the United States, notably in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and New York City. O'Brien briefly appeared at a January 18 rally outside the Tonight Show studio, after which he gave the crowd free pizza. The show's announcer Andy Richter and drummer Max Weinberg also made an appearance during the rally to speak to the crowd from atop the Tonight Show studio, and Tonight Show Band trombonist Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg was driven around the crowd in a Popemobile-style vehicle. American Red Cross representatives were at a number of the rallies to collect money for the Haiti earthquake relief.
Many in Hollywood expressed support for O'Brien, including Roger Ebert, Sarah Silverman, Will Ferrell, Jim Gaffigan, Jeff Garlin, Jim Carrey, Aziz Ansari, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Benson, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, Alyssa Milano, Chris Parnell, Marlee Matlin, Judd Apatow Ben Stiller, Ice-T, Matthew Perry, Norm Macdonald, Howard Stern, and Ricky Gervais. Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers addressed the controversy on the program's Weekend Update segment, defending O'Brien and summarizing the situation by comparing NBC to the husband of two wives, who had decided to leave one wife for another, and then change their mind and be married to both, angering both wives. Meyers went on to sarcastically claim that the network's hope for survival all rested on Chuck, which had experienced several problems maintaining an audience.
Numerous media outlets offered support of O'Brien, such as Gawker, Perez Hilton, and The Examiner, as well as less usual outlets such as advertisements running on Adult Swim. Numerous parody videos appeared on sites like YouTube and Funny or Die, in favor of O'Brien.
Response from fellow late night hosts
David Letterman of CBS' Late Show was one of the more adamant critics of NBC and Leno's handling of the conflict. Letterman was dubious that Leno would even leave The Tonight Show in 2009. He noted that, "We went through our own version of this, 17, 18 years ago," referring to his being denied the host position on The Tonight Show in 1992; Leno received the job, and Letterman left NBC for CBS. Letterman immediately responded to the timeslot conflict in January 2010, repeatedly referring to Leno as "Jay 'Big Jaw' Leno", and called his actions and statements "vintage Jay." Noting the criticism of his many barbs against Leno, Letterman stated that he was making fun of Leno "because I'm enjoying it very much. It's just a lot of fun." Letterman ridiculed Leno's recent "state of the network address", wherein he pleaded for viewers not to "blame Conan," with Letterman noting, "In the thousands and thousands of words that have been printed about this mess, who has blamed Conan?" Leno would later appear with Letterman and Oprah Winfrey in a Late Show promo that aired on CBS during Super Bowl XLIV, though Letterman had originally wished for O'Brien to also appear in the promo.
Letterman has called O'Brien a "fine man", and remarked that Al Jazeera is more trustworthy than NBC. Letterman reflected on the controversy, saying the situation was "all about the money"; he believed the NBC executives wanted "Conan to quit and go away and do a show in his basement... But he's a smart kid, he's not going to do that. He's in there for the cash. Or they waive his non-compete clause so he can go to Fox or come here and take my job."
Jimmy Kimmel of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! was also quick to publicly criticize NBC and Leno. A seemingly angered Kimmel went so far as to perform an entire episode of his program dressed in character as Leno, with a prosthetic chin and hair, and mimicking Leno's high voice and lisp, while mocking the host and his show. This included telling jokes in the style of Leno's show, bandleader Cleto Escobedo III imitating Kevin Eubanks' laugh and mannerisms, and Kimmel performing the popular Leno segment "Headlines". While interviewing Chevy Chase, who was briefly dressed as O'Brien, he remained in character, up until the very end of the show when he claimed he had "run out of steam" for the impression.
Two days later, he was invited onto The Jay Leno Show to participate in its "Ten at Ten" segment, during which he mocked Leno and the timeslot conflict several times. During the segment, Leno asked Kimmel about the "best prank" he ever pulled, to which Kimmel responded, "The best prank I ever pulled was I told a guy, 'Five years from now, I'm gonna give you my show.' And then when the five years came, I gave it to him, and then I took it back almost instantly." Leno followed up by asking, "Ever order anything off the TV?", to which Kimmel shot back, "Like NBC ordered your show off the TV?"
On January 28, Leno appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, claiming he had been "sucker punched" by Kimmel during the "Ten at Ten" segment. Kimmel rebuffed the notion that Leno had been "sucker punched", and noted that very few of the questions he was asked on-air were used during the pre-interview. In his monologue, Kimmel continued to take shots at Leno saying, "At one time he was a comedian," and "He's a tattletale."
Jimmy Fallon, of NBC's Late Night, which immediately follows The Tonight Show, refused to take sides, calling O'Brien and Leno "two of my heroes and two of my friends." He later joked that, "There's been three hosts of Late Night: David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and me. And if there's one thing I've learned from Dave and Conan, it's that hosting this show is a one-way ticket to not hosting The Tonight Show" (though years later, NBC signed Fallon to take over the show in 2014). In the episode of Late Night that directly followed O'Brien's final episode of The Tonight Show, Fallon toured Studio 6A, where Conan's incarnation of Late Night taped, and sang "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" with The Roots, who wore black to mark the occasion. To introduce the show, Questlove paid tribute by having a "Conan" placard in front of his face throughout the show and also announced the number of the episode (#187) by singing "187 and CoCo rocks" to the tune of "Deep Cover" by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg, in which Snoop Dogg originally sang "187 on an undercover cop".
Craig Ferguson of CBS' The Late Late Show remained relatively quiet on the topic, but noted his discomfort at having news outlets constantly talking about "which middle-aged white guy is gonna get X million dollars at what point and... I'm starting to feel a bit like an AIG executive." He later expressed his opinion, calling NBC executives "lying rat bastards." In a cold open, Ferguson also remarked while hidden from the camera, "I'm sorry I can't be here tonight. I've been moved. I am now appearing at 11:30 on NBC."
George Lopez of Lopez Tonight has described Leno as "the biggest two-faced dude and a back stabber," which he confirmed on an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight. Lopez continued saying that the two were "not friends. Nor have we ever been friendly." He also added that in his encounters with other late-night talk show hosts 'to a man, I think the one thing we agree on is that we're not all crazy about Jay Leno." When asked by Morgan if Leno is overly competitive, Lopez responded, "I don't think competition is the right word. I think he's just a little bit more interested in everybody else than he should be." Lopez also mentioned possible racial comments from Leno that he took personally.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show reflected on the controversy, saying, "At least we don't have to deal with Jeff Zucker. That guy's like the Cheney of television, shooting shows in the face." Stewart also shouted "Team Conan" as his "Moment of Zen" at the end of the January 21 episode of The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report asked guest Morgan Freeman to read a list of "untrustworthy things," one of which paraphrased a statement made by Leno in 2004, "Conan: The 11:30 slot? Yours."
Criticism of Leno
Leno has faced heated criticism and increasing negative publicity for his perceived role in the timeslot conflict, with some critics predicting that his reputation—along with those of Jeff Zucker and NBC as a whole—had been permanently damaged by the incident. Critics have pointed to a 2004 Tonight Show clip, wherein Leno claimed he would allow O'Brien to take over without incident. At the time, Leno stated he didn't want O'Brien to leave for a competing network, adding, "I'll be 59 when [the switch occurs], that's five years from now. There's really only one person who could have done this into his 60s, and that was Johnny Carson; I think it's fair to say I'm no Johnny Carson." Leno also described The Tonight Show as a dynasty, saying "you hold it and hand it off to the next person. And I don't want to see all the fighting..." At the end of the segment, he said, "Conan, it's yours! See you in five years, buddy!" Leno would later claim that he was knowingly telling a lie, in that NBC was forcing him to resign from the job.
Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt was among the first celebrities to openly voice disappointment with Leno, saying, "Comedians who don't like Jay Leno now, and I'm one of them, were not like, 'Jay Leno sucks;' it's that we're so hurt and disappointed that one of the best comedians of our generation... willfully has shut the switch off." Rosie O'Donnell has been among O'Brien's most vocal and vehement supporters, calling Leno a "bully" and his recent actions "classless and kind of career-defining." Howard Stern was also a harsh critic of Leno before and following the timeslot change announcement; Stern appeared on Late Night in 2006, and told O'Brien that he felt it was unlikely that Leno would ever willingly give up Tonight to anyone.
In an essay for the Wall Street Journal, Nathan Rabin wrote that Leno had "raced past the reviled likes of Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia on the list of popular stand-ups hated by comedians and comedy writers." Bill Zehme, the co-author of Leno's autobiography Leading with My Chin, told the Los Angeles Times, "The thing Leno should do is walk, period. He's got everything to lose in terms of public popularity by going back. People will look at him differently. He'll be viewed as the bad guy." Joe Queenan from the Wall Street Journal went further in his criticism of Leno, even comparing the controversy to Adolf Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia.
NBC Sports head executive and former Saturday Night Live producer Dick Ebersol spoke out against all who had recently mocked Leno, calling them "chicken-hearted and gutless." Jeff Gaspin also defended Leno: "This has definitely crossed the line. Jay is the consummate professional and one of the hardest-working people in television. It's a shame that he's being pulled into this." Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld,Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Maher were among the few celebrities to voice support exclusively for Leno. Seinfeld and Reiser both had television programs in development with NBC at the time, with Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref specifically benefitting from Leno vacating the 10pm timeslot.
Responding to the mounting criticism, Leno claimed that NBC executives had told him that they were "75% sure" O'Brien would be willing to accept the proposed arrangement and then would not let either host out of their contract. Leno also said that the situation was "all business."
On January 25, Leno taped an audience-less interview for The Oprah Winfrey Show in what some think was an attempt to repair some of the damage done to his public image. During the interview, which aired on January 28, Leno confirmed that he had not spoken to O'Brien since the programming changes were first announced. A poll on Winfrey's website regarding the controversy taken following the interview reflected support for O'Brien at an overwhelming 96%, and with 95% feeling Leno should not return to Tonight. The day after the interview, the poll page was quietly and unexpectedly taken offline. During a post-interview question and answer session, Winfrey told some audience members who expressed support for O'Brien that they only felt that way due to "not knowing how the industry worked."
Criticism of NBC
Critics also questioned promotions for an appearance by 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Leno's Tonight Show. The advertisements claimed that she had never made a late-night talk show appearance before—despite her appearing on the Conan O'Brien Tonight Show on December 11, 2009. Sarah Palin also had a clip on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Nikki Finke, a blogger for the Deadline Hollywood website, cited this as more evidence of NBC attempting to erase any remnants of the O'Brien era.
On September 24, 2010, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker announced he would be stepping down as CEO as soon as Comcast completes its acquisition of NBC Universal which was expected to take place at the end of 2010.
Aftermath for O'Brien
Signing on to Twitter
On February 24, 2010, O'Brien attracted media attention for starting a Twitter account. His "tweets", although primarily jokes, amounted to his first public statements since leaving The Tonight Show one month earlier. After about one hour, O'Brien's number of Twitter followers had rocketed past the 30,000 followers of the official Jay Leno account. After 24 hours, O'Brien had well over 300,000 followers. In late May 2010, he surpassed the one million mark for number of Twitter followers.
The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour
On March 11, 2010, O'Brien announced via his Twitter account that he would embark on a 30-city live tour beginning April 12, entitled "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour". Co-host Andy Richter, along with members of the band (now called The Legally Prohibited Band) sans Weinberg, joined O'Brien on the tour, which ended in Atlanta, Georgia on June 14, 2010. $695 VIP tickets offered the opportunity to meet O'Brien in person.
Move to TBS
On April 12, 2010, just hours before the start of his tour in Eugene, Oregon, O'Brien announced that he would host a new show on cable station TBS beginning November 8, 2010, to air Mondays through Thursdays beginning at 11 pm ET/10 pm CT. O'Brien's addition moved Lopez Tonight with George Lopez back one hour to midnight ET/11 pm CT. O'Brien refused at first to do to Lopez what had happened to O'Brien at NBC, but agreed to join the network after Lopez called to persuade him to come to TBS. O'Brien's production company, Conaco, owns all rights to the show.
60 Minutes interview
After being prohibited from making television appearances of any kind until May, O'Brien spoke about the Tonight Show conflict on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes on May 2, 2010. During the interview with Steve Kroft, O'Brien said the situation felt "like a marriage breaking up suddenly, violently, quickly. And I was just trying to figure out what happened." He also said he "absolutely" expected NBC to give him more of a chance, and if in Jay Leno's position, he would not have come back to The Tonight Show. However, Conan does not feel as though he got shafted. "It's crucial to me that anyone seeing this take—they take anything away from this, it's [that] I'm fine. I'm doing great," said O'Brien. "I hope people still find me comedically absurd and ridiculous. And I don't regret anything." Nearly 13.5 million people watched the 60 Minutes edition with Conan's interview, making it the eighth most-watched program of the week.
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