Conan O’Brien releases a ballsy open letter to NBC

19th Annual Beat The Odds Awards

Hot damn! Late Tuesday afternoon, Conan O’Brien released one of the most hardcore open letters in recent memory. After months of speculation, the peacock has come home to roost at NBC. The Jay Leno, on every 10 p.m. weeknight, is a disaster, and NBC just decided to pull the plug over the weekend. Instead of just firing Jay Leno and letting Conan continue on as host of the Tonight Show, with a full hour-long show, per usual, NBC is trying to push Leno on at 11:35 p.m., with Conan and the Tonight Show on at 12:00 or 12:05. The thing is that Conan has a contract, and he will not go quietly:

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.

Yours, Conan

[Conan O’Brien’s open letter, via Huffington Post]

I think one of the best points Conan insinuates is that he hasn’t really been given the opportunity to succeed, and NBC hasn’t really been backing the Tonight Show. Not only have they not been promoting it as much, Leno’s show sucked all of the air out of the room. Also, Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC/Universal’s Entertainment, told reporters that “Conan’s motivation will become more clear as time goes on.” Meaning, “It’s Conan’s fault that the Tonight Show’s ratings have flatlined.” In any case, I’m glad Conan is putting up a fight – and I really hope some of the chuckleheads who created this horrible situation are fired.

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66 Responses to “Conan O’Brien releases a ballsy open letter to NBC”

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  1. Jane Q. Doe says:

    Good for Conan! I don’t watch either him or Jay (or anyone on late night), but it seems like he’s getting the raw end of the deal. Why is NBC willing to go to such lengths to keep Jay Leno?? If he was that popular, his show would still be on.

  2. Rosalee says:

    Leno retired, he left. NBC pulled his show, he should be the one to say good night best wishes. Instead we get his chin and ego eating up prime time television. I rarely watched Conan, now I do..

  3. Jazz says:

    Team Conan!!

  4. Good for him. NBC is filled with a bunch of empty suits who are killing the station. I know Conan does not need my good wishes for his future, he will be fine…….however, best of luck, Conan. Go out there and beat the hell out of them!

  5. teehee says:

    I actually really really like Conan- again I cant see much but what I do catch I think is awesome…. he has a wonderful sense of humor that is very fun to watch and a silliness/humility I dont htink the other late nighters have.
    I mean, Mr T and Conan go apple picking… come on …Team Conan! 😀

  6. Tia C says:

    NBC pushed Jay out of the Tonight Show too soon. Predictably, Conan isn’t carrying it. They’re putting Jay back. It’s that simple. Period.

  7. Granger says:

    The worst thing about this is Jay Leno’s lack of comment. If he had any backbone, he’d say no to NBC and release a statement in support of Conan. What an ass.

  8. CC says:

    I don’t watch any late night shows anymore, (Maybe because the internet is more my entertainment now).. But this late night battle sucks.

    I used to watch Conan a lot, Had a crush on him and everything, but as time went on, he seemed to get more and more obnoxious. Like spastically jumping on tables,going on about his hair, and doing that awful string dance that would take time out of the monologue. It just seemed like his personality was changing and he was selling out. He used to be cool and had a quirky kind of humor, but then he just started getting annoying to me and once it was annouced he was taking over the Tonight Show and moving to LA I kind of stopped watching his show all together. I figured his show and him were never going to be the same again.
    But, I do feel bad for him, I guess it was his dream all along to host the Tonight show and a deals a deal. NBC should stick to it, and so should Jay. I still like Conan better than Jay.
    I don’t like Jay’s blandish humor and political leanings.
    Jay should be the one to walk. He can always go to another network like Fox, He’d fit right in over there. Much more his audience.

  9. WTF?!? says:

    Not an attractive man (that header shot made me shriek), but I think he’s doing the right thing.
    NBC thought they could publicly pressure Conan into fixing their mistake. Glad he’s standing up for himself and this institution known as The Tonight Show. He’s too frat boy for my taste, but he’s a great writer and a hard worker.
    Leno sucks, anyway. He’s been a puppet of NBC for years. How he came out of nowhere and managed to get Carson’s chair over Letterman AND Rivers– the heirs apparent– always seemed fishy to me. He’s not funny.

  10. Phowie says:

    For NBC its all about ratings. The Tonight Show always profitted from the nightly news lead-in. The performer they have in the time slot isn’t pulling in the viewers like the previous performer that was in that slot while at the same time said previous performer is bombing in his new earlier time slot. It sucks but NBC thinks Leno is a God because he was annointed by Carson himself as his successor. Thus, Conan, bend over and grab your ankles.

  11. Dorothy says:

    Love Conan and Andy richter and if NBC continues I think I may boycott. This is just so stupid. Talk about messing with peoples lives. All of the people who work for Conan uprooted themselves to LA and now they are in flux.

  12. Peach says:

    I LOVED the string dance.
    And all his stunts. Conan has made me snort laugh more times than I care to count. I’m sad that he’s leaving. But, I have a feeling he’ll be back.

    With all the positive press he’s receiving right now for ripping NBC a new one, surely some other network will see that and swoop in on him.

    Love him and his big Irish head.

  13. Roma says:

    I can’t stand Leno and have never once thought he was funny. But he appeals to “middle America”; or it’s least that’s how he was always built up. This is happening due to the revolting of the NBC affiliates over Jay’s show taking up prime time, not over Conan’s performance on the Tonight Show. Affiliates just want their Law & Order back. I’m sorry Jay, you retired – go away.

  14. Leek says:

    Aaaw…that’s too bad. I used to LOVE watching the Late show with Conan. I thought he was so silly and I loved how light he was. I really feel bad for his situation. NBC should be ashamed of themselves for causing him to go through such public humiliation.

    Also, the fact that he acknowledged bigger problems in the world, etc., makes me want to see him ditch NBC and take someone else’s money. The one celeb that actually proves to have a bit of humility is one that I will back.

    If Conan leaves, I’ll give up my beloved news program that I’ve been watching instead.

  15. Newyorking says:

    I used to catch Leno sometimes, and often his clips in cabs. I thought he was a bit funny. I started watching his 10 pm and realized that the guy is not funny. 10pm is the most boring time slot because nothing is on TV and Leno is just not funny – don’t know what NBC sees in him. Why is he around anyway? Isn’t it his fault that late news ratings have fallen hence Conan’s ratings fell as well? I will have to tune in for Conan now.

  16. Nikole says:

    Leno was chosen without Carson’s blessing. From what I understand, Carson believed that the job should have gone to David Letterman.

  17. CC says:

    Don’t get me wrong I liked the string dance at first, it only got annoying when he started doing it almost every episode. I hope Fox isn’t the network that scoops him up. I still have a soft spot for Conan. I wish him the best of luck. NBC is making a big mistake.

  18. Bam Bam says:

    why don’t they poll America and let all of us decide?

  19. elin says:

    @tia c

    jay also did horribly ratings-wise when he first took over, but NBC gave him years to find an audience. they’re clearly not doing that with conan.

    also, if it’s true that jay said that he didn’t want to make conan’s transition to the tonight show as difficult as his was (when he took over from johnny and letterman became his rival), then he’s a liar as well as a total a**.

  20. Kolby says:

    Leno is a douchebag for letting this get as bad as it has, and the folks at NBC are stupid, plain and simple. They’ve managed to turn the number one network into a last place joke in a few short years. I watch the Office and 30 Rock, and of course Conan, but I will seriously consider ditching the network all together if they continue to screw Conan over. I guess hard work and talent really don’t have any meaning anymore.

  21. Keen says:

    whether or not they pushed jay out of the Tonight Show “too soon,” it’s not solely Conan’s fault that he isn’t “carrying it.” The local nbc news affiliates have been miserable b/c no one is watching the news b/c no one is watching your precious Jay Leno! I don’t have a problem with Jay, but it’s a lot more complicated than you seem to think it is. Maybe you think Jay should host the local news and that that would fix everything? Yikes.

  22. Leno should be retire.

  23. lucy2 says:

    First, I think his statement was perfect – humble and humorous, but still stood up for himself, his staff, and Jimmy’s show as well. Everything he said was true.
    Second, the Tonight Show isn’t failing, Leno’s 10 pm show is. If Conan were tanking, that would be understandable to bring Leno back, but it’s LENO’s show that’s the problem.

  24. Kaboom says:

    Go Coco!

  25. andrea says:

    it’s a game of musical chairs – who will be left standing when the music stops?

    im sure conan’s lawyers have blessed this move with the letter. jay leno could make this a lot easier on everyone and just bow out. he’s had his career – he plays along like, oh that darn NBC is so confused – but, really, NBC is doing this to bend over for Jay, so if Jay took the high road and just retired already after his show is cancelled, he’d be doing the network, Conan and Jimmy a solid.

  26. Firestarter says:

    @Tia C- NBC did not push Leno out of The Tonight Show, he announced his retirement several years ago and stated that he was going to make 2007 his last year, he ended up extending that in contract negotiations, and left in 2008. NBC did not want him to retire, he wanted to retire. Then for some reason as his retirement from the The Tonight Show approached, he had second thoughts, but NBC had already announced his Tonight Show replacement. To accommodate Leno, NBC came up with the not so bright idea of a 5 night prime time talk venue for Leno, thereby cutting costs on production costs of other shows, and having Leno still around.

    Make no mistake, NBC did not push Leno out, he wanted to go and then he didn’t. Conan deserves better, and I hope he sticks it to NBC and moves elsewhere! TEAM CONAN!

  27. CR says:

    I love Conan – don’t watch until the DVR recording the next day but he was great on Late Night and much better on the Tonight Show than Leno ever was. Why is Leno still working anyway – he is not funny and has enough money. Why destroy other peoples aspirations just to keep his ego in check.

  28. LolaBella says:

    Team Conando!!

  29. margo says:

    I love Conan!
    NBC really screwed themselves with this debacle! Leno stinks and is not funny or witty, his humor has always bored me. I really hope Conan will come back to NYC and rule the 11:30 time slot with another network that appreciates his work and that sets him up for success, stands by his talent–why all the pandering to Leno? He is old news

  30. kello says:

    What a class act. Something amazing will happen for him. He will be fine.

  31. Popcorny says:

    Jay is the biggest LA-HOOOOO-SERRRRR.
    What a selfish, shallow scumbag he is =100% Hollywood Plastic.
    I used to think Jay was a nice person (even if he wasn’t funny) but he’s not. He’s a douche-bag, more so than even Gosselin and M. Lohan combined.
    Boycotting NBC is going to be too easy (as NBC has nothing worth watching to begin with).
    If Jay had any class, dignity and integrity -he’d have just hung it up (like he said he was going to do in the first place), but he has none of those.
    I hope others feel the same and it resonates in his ratings.

  32. Jana says:

    Go Conan! Suprized that they didnt censor him!

  33. Alarmjaguar says:

    Conan, Conan! I actually haven’t seen him on the Tonight Show (new twins keep a person busy and exhausted), but I loved him on the Late Show! Suck it, NBC.

  34. Obvious says:

    while not a fan of either, i have recently been putting my sleep timer on to go off after the tonight show and keep it turned to nbc. i may be sleepin through it, but my support is with conan, not the big chinned no talent hack who keeps lying and then brushing it off.

    nbc, if it wasn’t for chuck and svu i wouldn’t even bother.

  35. Linda says:

    Hey Conan – welcome to the real world – you don’t do your job – you don’t perform – you lose the company money – you get fired!! Shut up and stop whining!

  36. Dingles says:

    I think no matter what happens Conan will come out on top, heck, this may even help his career since people are becoming so vocal about their support and tuning in just to prove a point.
    He’ll be fine, NBC and Leno are shooting their own feet.

  37. elin says:

    oh yeah, team Conando!

  38. vic says:

    I love Conan and I think Leno is a bore, but that is besides the point. It always seemed to me that Leno was pushed to retire. Leno as boring as he is could have done the Tonight show for at least ten more years. He never seemed ready to retire. There are people at NBC who need to get fired for horrible management decisions. The person who decided to switch the late night line up and the president of NBC for publicly announcing that Conan and Jay had the WEEKEND to think about the new line-up. That was a completely disrespectful move that has come back to slap him in the face. Add the money losing Olympics and the dying Law and Order franchise ( Is it me or has SVU sucked this year…with the new office, new characters, and predictable storylines. The show hasn’t been good since Ice-T cut his braids) and it makes you wonder why heads haven’t rolled.

  39. lucy2 says:

    @Linda – Conan DID do his job. He did it just fine. It was the Leno show at 10 that bombed, the Leno show that got canceled, and Leno who should be losing his job.

  40. S.V. says:

    TEAM CONAN!!! Screw that big chin douchebag Leno!

  41. moo says:

    Is the Tonight Show lacking viewership, or is it Leno’s viewer’s making the big issue over this? I heard it was Leno’s “fault”, so to speak…

    And Conan has So much freakin CLASS!!! Kudo’s to him regardless!

  42. SageAdvice says:

    Leno retired himself. And then he was like, no I don’t think I want to retire so NBC bent over backwards to accommodate him. Now his show is tanking and NBC canceled him.

    Conan has been doing what was expected of him and more. I don’t really watch either show because I don’t have the time but I loved Conan on Late Night when I was in high school. The humor is a bit more…frat-like but it worked.

    NBC needs to just fire Jay for good.

  43. cowbell says:

    The Tonight Show always profitted from the nightly news lead-in. The performer they have in the time slot isn’t pulling in the viewers like the previous performer that was in that slot while at the same time said previous performer is bombing in his new earlier time slot. It sucks but NBC thinks Leno is a God because he was annointed by Carson himself as his successor.

    This is incorrect. Carson wanted Letterman – which is why he sent jokes to him over the years after he retired and why he went on Letterman’s show and never Jay’s.

    The reason Conan’s show doesn’t have the viewers is because the geniuses at NBC slashed all their 10pm programs in order to give Jay that shitty 10:30 shot. People left to watch cable shows so the local affiliates lost viewers with their news shows and thus no one was watching the news to stay tuned to Conan.
    NBC screwed up. They did force Jay out 6 years ago because they were afraid of losing Conan at that time. Now it seems they couldn’t give a fuck about him. I’ll watch him on Fox. Leno can suck it.

  44. emma says:

    why does nbc love leno so much? first they chose leno over letterman, even though carson chose letterman and letterman was the host of late night. now they’re choosing him over conan.

  45. Lucinda says:

    Leno chose to retire. NBC tapped Conan. No one forced the issue as far as I can see.

    Before Leno’s new show came out, the talk was that it didn’t need a huge viewership to be financially successful because it was such a low-cost show. But everything I read said NBC was really making a big mistake by putting him on 5 days a week. Essentially they were being cheap.

    Everyone knows that lead-in is a HUGE factor to the success of a show. How many series have struggled until they found a good spot in the schedule? Remember how following Friends was huge? Do you really think Scrubs would have had it’s success without that?

    The affiliates have been screaming for months that their 11 pm newscasts have terrible viewership thanks to NBC and Leno. For NBC to cancel Leno now, given how small the ratings could be to be a success, it had to be pretty terrible and that absolutely affects the news and the tonight show.

    I do remember when Leno took over. For YEARS people said it sucked and would NBC replace him and he wasn’t as good as Carson. It really took him a long time to get the following he has now.

    Conan’s letter is classy and hits the point on the head. Kudos.

  46. snapdragon says:

    “My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show.”

    really, conan? harder than nurses, or teachers, or firefighters? they work unbelievably hard, too, and don’t have million dollar bank accounts. all these late night hosts should stop whining and be grateful they don’t have to get a real job.

  47. conan'stheman says:

    Jay Leno is garbage that doesn’t even deserve to come on after Carson Daily. TV has really gone to sh**.

  48. Tami says:

    To all those bashing Leno, you are uniformed fools. Conan forced NBC’s hand 5 years ago in contract negotiations saying he had to have the Tonight Show or he’d leave the network. Leno figured he’d be ready to retire and agreed to the deal. Conan has not produced the ratings needed to keep the job, it’s been 7 months now and any other show would’ve been yanked months ago. NBC is a business first with the goal to make money, keeping Conan happy is not their focus and with good reason. He’s not producing the ratings Leno did so they are going back to what worked. It’s as simple as that.

  49. CB Rawks says:

    “To all those bashing Leno, you are uniformed fools”

    Nuh-uh! Mine’s being dry-cleaned.

  50. Granger says:

    CB Rawks: Nice catch! Too funny.

    Snapdragon: Excellent post. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, when you’re reading celeb gossip, just how far removed these people are from the real world.

  51. jen says:

    CB Rawks:
    January 13th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    “To all those bashing Leno, you are uniformed fools”

    Nuh-uh! Mine’s being dry-cleaned.

    OH SWEET JESUS…*choking on water* HAHAHAHAHAHA that was good…

    AS for Conan – I don’t watch any of these late night shows, but I USED to watch Conan when he first started out. AND as a diehard Simpsons fan I will ALWAYS love him (I don’t care that he left the show 16 years ago…LOL) His letter was BRILLIANT. He basically told them to f*ck off without losing his cool.

    @ snapdragon – Conan may not need the money, but I would bet his hardworking staff do. They have families, bills, and make nowhere near the scratch Conan does, so yeah, they work hard & don’t deserve to lose their jobs.

  52. Deborah says:

    I think Conan is innately funny and talented and that Jay Leno tells jokes. There’s a big difference when you want to spend an hour late at night with a guy and his guests.

    Good job Conan for standing up to the suits who have created this ridiculous situation. You’ve showed class and dignity and that will stay with you wherever you go…or stay.

    Jay Leno, however, looks like an ass and if the lousy ratings for his current show aren’t enough to show that he’s finished, surely tanking the Tonight Show will write it in letters large enough for NBC to understand.

  53. Shay says:

    I’m tired of hearing people say that Conan’s comedy is juvenile. They forget the silly skits that Jay does with the cat. The only thing Jay did that I fought at all funny was the Jaywalk skits. The idiots were funny not Jay.

  54. Ftinker says:

    I personally am a HUGE fan of Conan! Why should NBC try to accomodate Jay Leno? He was given a great time slot, a time when people are still awake and not ready to go to sleep and he failed!!! Get rid of Leno all together NBC needs to retire him and that crazy chin and let Conan do the great job that he’s doing!!!!

  55. For Sooth? says:

    I thought that Johnny Carson hand picked Letterman to replace him. If anything, David was the first to be screwed by Leno. And now he moves on to Conan. Jay, in my opinion, is a lech and a man without principles. He should go elsewhere and let Conan build his base.

    My heart goes out to the people on Conan’s staff that moved coasts with their family only to get the ax. NBC repulses me.

  56. CB Rawks says:

    😀 Hee!

  57. nbcblows says:

    I liked Leno when he did the tonight show, and I liked Conan when he did the late show. The format of Leno’s show is what really sucks. It needs to be just like the rest: 2 guests and a musical/comedy act at the end. Not 1 guest and a 10 questions with a celebrity. That’s where they screwed up. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    Good job to Conan for letting NBC know that they don’t own him just because they sign his checks. Leno had the tonight show for a long time, and Conan did the late night show for a long time and deserved the opportunity to do the tonight show.

    I do agree that even though I like Leno, he should have stepped down since he’s the one that changed his mind and decided to try the 10PM slot even though he was supposed to be retiring.

    Good Job Conan, and I’ll watch you on whatever network you end up on!

  58. NicoleAM says:

    I don’t watch any of the late shows too often, but Cohan is my fave. He adds that physical comedy that no other host does. I always thought he was funnier than Leno. And I also don’t get The Jay Leno Show. I thought when he left the Tonight Show he was retiring from late night? Does he need another outrageously expensive car to add to his collection or something?

  59. GatsbyGal says:

    I always hated Leno, and now I actually have a solid reason to. Fuck you, Leno. Go retire already and stop messing things up.

    TEAM CONAN. <3

  60. daisy says:


  61. Bo says:

    team coco!

  62. Ben says:

    The scissor dance rocks. Where did he come up with that? Another thing, Conan has always been very humble in the way he makes fun of himself, and I think his “obnoxious” humor is spot on. Conan is a Bad Ass Mother Freaker (BAMF)! Go team Conan!

  63. samantha says:

    leno is not funny …. he is always learing at woman’s breasts on his show..making deragatory school boy comments… anyone else ever notice that?? disrespectful…glad that jimmy kimmel gave it to him!!!

    go conan!!! nbc just axed their own network by showing such disrespect to conan and all his fans…and more importantly the families that moved out to LA….

    leno should bow out !!

  64. jeff haynes says:

    as an australian who has watched conan for years, this makes me sad.
    jay leno`s show promotes everything bad about america, and i think conan`s show has lost its edge taking over jay`s timeslot. you may have a black president. but you are still a nation that is predominately inhabited by racist, homophobic wannabes with no sense of humor. the most popular (not funniest) comedian/ tv host in this country of the last ten years was a twerp by the name of rove mc manus who stole his whole act from conan,(not successfully i might add). john mayer appeared on a show hear years ago claiming australians were so ready and willing to buy into america`s lowest common denominator bullshit entertainment. seems like america and the rest of the world are ready to follow suit.
    i truly believe conan will win this battle as he is an original.

    to qoute one of the greatest comedians who ever lived. Bill Hicks(from rant in e-minor) Remember when jay leno was funny? back before he had his own show? now he`s a corporate shill.
    never a truer word spoken.

  65. Laura says:

    Go Conan…he seems to be the only one with principled thinking in this situation. He politely sidesteps the obvious that Leno’s show tanked, and displays thoughtful consideration for Jimmy’s show (which is more than Leno has done). Leno’s on air statement confirms that he IS a puppet. The NBC that created the timeless Tonight Show is gone. Conan, find a network that values you and your talent….as Johnny Carson once did! You’ll be great!

  66. Tony says:

    I believe Leno should be given another show, after The Tonight Show and Late Night. To move the Tonight Show and Late Night to another time slow for Leno is wrong. I enjoy Jay Leno, think he is great, however I think Conan is getting the shaft. I don’t think it is Jay’s fault. It is NBC’s fault.