O'Brien Won't Go Along With 'Tonight Show' Move

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NBC is scrambling to fill its empty nightly slots now that it has canceled Jay's Leno's prime-time show. NBC wants to move Leno's show to the 11:35 p.m. EST daily slot, bumping Tonight to 12:05 a.m. EST. In a statement Tuesday, Conan O'Brien said he won't go along with The Tonight Show's move.


Late night television comedy shows have been full of drama in recent days, and the latest episode has one of the comedians refusing to follow his script. Conan O'Brien says he won't go along with an NBC plan to start "The Tonight Show" after midnight. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: NBC's prime time experiment, which moved Jay Leno from late night to 10 PM and Conan O'Brien into Leno's spot, has been declared a failure. At this week's Television Critics Association press tour, network executives announced they'd be shifting Leno back to late night. In a recent monologue that noted his move back to his old time slot, Leno had this tart assessment.

JAY LENO: I take pride in one thing. I leave NBC Prime Time the same way I found it: a complete disaster, so that's...

GRIGSBY BATES: Critics agree complete disaster was a pretty good way to describe NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker's switch. The new arrangement which aimed to keep both Leno and O'Brien lost viewers and money for the network affiliates. But the decision to reverse it was an agonizing one for NBC executives. Sharon Waxman is editor-n-chief of, which covers Hollywood.

SHARON WAXMAN: I had one NBC executive describe it to me as a Sophie's choice they were trying to avoid, which was a little bit, perhaps over dramatic, but understanding, you know, the context that they're working in.

GRIGSBY BATES: So NBC made its choice. But so has O'Brien. Shortly after the switch was announced, he released a statement saying that he would not be filling the 12:05 AM slot. For 60 years, "The Tonight Show" has aired immediately following the late local news, he wrote. Moving tonight into what essentially is the next day, Obrien says, will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. O'Brien went on to say he hoped NBC would resolve the matter quickly so he and his staff can go on to do a show we love for a company that values our work.

Many industry observers say it was highly impractical for NBC to assume it would be able to keep both Leno and O'Brien.'s Sharon Waxman said the attempt to do that closely parallels another juggling effort that often fails.

WAXMAN: It's like saying I love both my girlfriends, and I want to date both of them, and one of the girlfriends saying no, I love you too, but you have to choose.

GRIGSBY BATES: Now NBC has made its choice and one of the hosts it loves probably will kiss the network goodbye. Even if he doesn't know what comes next.

CONAN O: My name is Conan O'Brien and I may soon be available for children's parties, so let me know.


GRIGSBY BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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