Conan O'Brien: Where does he go from here?

So with his release of an eloquent, measured, but firm statement today, Conan O’Brien begins the process of untethering himself from the shackles of NBC and The Tonight Show. The question is, where does he go from here?

As I said yesterday, I think going to Fox would be a mistake. I still think so. Going to Fox gets Conan an 11 p.m. time period, where he’ll be competing for younger viewers with  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Yes, I know, O’Brien will instantly reach more viewers on Fox than Stewart and Colbert do on their cable outlets, but there’s a lot more crossover between Conan’s young/hip viewers and the Comedy Central stalwarts than there is for any other late-night host. Hosting the Tonight Show opposite Letterman, O’Brien automatically looked young and fresh. Hosting — oh, let’s say Fox brands it Conan! – against Stewart and Colbert, he’ll look as though he’s not as engaged in current events and lose some of his young viewers.

Advantage to leaving The Tonight Show: He’ll be free to do as he pleases. (As so many of you have said, Welcome back, Masturbating Bear!) But doing as he pleases could lead him to become more insular, more assiduously wacky. One of the few good things about the mantle of The Tonight Show was that it was forcing O’Brien to re-think his approach, and it was paying off creatively.

There’s at least one other, remote possibility: ABC will offer to cancel Nightline and move Jimmy Kimmel back a half-hour. That’s really tough: Going up against Jay and Dave, he’d get pounded in the ratings, I think, don’t you? And while Kimmel isn’t the power-player any of these other guys is, he’d still be plenty angry about that move. Maybe angry enough to go to… Fox.

One more point: The saddest thing, from his remarkable statement today, is that it’s clear that Conan O’Brien has much more of a sense of history and a respect for the Tonight Show legacy than either his NBC bosses or many of his viewers.

What do you think Conan should do?

(Follow me on Twitter @kentucker )

For more on Conan and late-night: Conan O’Brien expresses ‘enormous personal disappointment’ over NBC’s ‘Tonight Show’ decision

NBC’s new late-night schedule: Brilliant by accident?

Comments (362 total) Add your comment
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  • CB

    And NBC exec Jeff Zucker has a job why?

    • harry K

      Very good question. And I think they recently extended his contract! People at NBC are idiots.

      • imo

        Sadly, NBC should have never cowtowed to Conan 6 years ago and forced Leno out. Conan should have either stuck with where he was at until Leno was REALLY ready to retire or go to another network like HE threatened to do 6 yrs ago. Conan’s time for 11:35 time slot is not here yet.

      • js

        imo…I SO agree with you. Everybody has been pointing fingers as to who’s to blame for the NBC mess. Whoever Ok’d that contract, for a set date for Conan to take over the Tonight Show, should be not be allowed to work in show business again. If Conan has so much respect for the Tonight Show he shouldn’t have demanded that in his contract.

      • dating-doctors

        I think they should let Leno go to Fox, where he will have better ratings.

    • me

      I’m asleep by then anyway. My suggestion: Make NBC pay. Sign a contract elsewhere for a dollar and make NBC pay the rest.

    • Jeremy

      It’s because, despite the fact that the network station is doing poorly, the cable aspect he has set up is doing remarkable, i.e. USA and Bravo. That’s why Comcast bought controlling interest, was because of the cable stations.

  • Namanh Hoang

    Leno has no integrity because imagine if Carson had pulled the same stunt when he passed the torch to Leno, then there wouldn’t be a Tonight Show today and Leno would fade into obscurity as Letterman continued to ridicule him from CBS. Leno thrived because Carson passed it on to him and let him take ownership of the tradition. Wish we could get Carson’s thoughts on this whole thing. Share you opinion on baduku’s public opinion engine:

    • SandyC

      Carson wanted to leave his show to Letterman and was NOT happy NBC gave it to Leno, which is why he never guested on Leno’s show. In fact, he often sent Dave jokes for his monologue! Whatever he thought about Conan, I’m sure he would appreciate his integrity. And you’re right, Leno doesn’t have integrity. Team Conan!!!

      • D

        Yep. When Letterman read one of Carson’s jokes he accompanied it with a golf swing gesture.

      • Shel

        So, never appearing on your successor’s show and sending jokes to your successor’s competitor was being “classy” and “supportive” about the change-over? lol lol But you’re right, I guess Carson didn’t ever really interfere with Jay’s “takeover.” (uh huh) However, Jay didn’t interfere with Conan’s either – NBC did. Jay, I’m sure, would have been happy to entertain any of the other offers he was getting after NBC fired him while he was still #1. NBC realized their mistake….and fixed it in a way that has made it thousands of times worse.

    • Ed from DE

      This is totally correct. When Johnny left, he LEFT — he didn’t host another Oscars. He didn’t show up on talk couches every week, and he certainly didn’t take on a “new” show in prime time!

      From the start, Leno denied Conan the opportunity to make “Tonight” truly Conan’s show (in the way we used to say “Johnny’s gonna be on in 5 minutes” and, Leno fans have told me, “it’s no accident that the biggest guests come on Jay’s show…”)

      Conan got neither the space (from Jay) nor the time (in years, from the network) to let that happen, and it’s a shame.

      I agree with Conan that NBC is preparing to destroy the legacy of “Tonight,” and the only way to salvage THAT situation is to put Jay back on at 11:30 — hosting “The Tonight Show.” As distasteful as that would be, it would at least be *honest* about NBC’s wishing Jay could have stayed for many more years.

      And Conan will land on is feet – right atop a big pile of NBC millions.

      • KimR

        Excellently put. Leno would never have made it if Johnny decided to do a show at 10PM. Viewers would have just watched Johnny, the news and hit the sack. In the world of showbiz someone should tell Conan that his integrity is showing. No one else’s is. Conan all the way!!

  • Kris

    I need Conan… so he better do something! Maybe a different format on Cable?

    • josh

      Please. Conan is a media whore…he’s not going to settle for burial on cable. And I agree with Ken, who’s right as usual. Conan will get his ass kicked by Jay/Letterman if he goes head to head.

      • i’m a lady

        how is he a media whore? because he released one public statement?

      • Kimberly

        Yeah, Josh….
        Please defend that statement. I can not for the life of me figure out how Conan=Media Whore. No matter which way I look at it. While his comedy is often juvenile and immature (and I mean that in the best way)…his behavior as an individual has always been entirely classy. Where is this coming from Josh? Or should I guess?

      • ^josh is an idiot

        josh, you’re a moron. you should learn to think before you say something; ken was talking about jimmy kimmel getting pounded against jay and dave if his show was moved back an half hour not conan. conan’s statement showed a lot of class! leno has over stayed his welcome but unfortunately he doesn’t know it.

      • LB

        Ditto what i’m a lady said: how is he a media whore?

      • Tom Brazelton

        Conan is a media whore? Compared to who? Leno? Jay Leno – who will name-drop corporate brands into his monologue with reckless abandon? Get a clue.

      • Lala

        Conan has a lot of integrity. He’s been put into a difficult, very public career situation, and has handled it with absolute grace. He chose saving the ‘Tonight Show’ and the ‘Late Show’ from re-formatting over his own ambitions to stay at NBC late-night, and did it with dignity. I don’t see how that’s being a media whore.

      • gigi

        Not an appropriate use of “media whore”. I’m not a Conan fan, but I do admire him for making this classy statement about the whole situation. He’s joked about it, but hasn’t been on everyother news show complaining about it. And frankly it’s pretty Eff’d UP!! He’s a wronged man, not a media whore.

      • DT

        I believe Josh’s real identity is Jeff Zucker!! Conan is NOT a media whore. I believe you have him and Leno mixed up. Leno stuck his thumb in his mouth, stomped his feet and cried “I want me show back!” The whole process began to crumble when they started playing around with the time slots in the beginning. It IS time for Leno to retire.

    • Cass

      I’d love to see Conan go to Comedy Central keeping a late night format. Start the late night domination by having a block of Conan, Jon Stewart and Colbert. Not necessarily in that order.

  • cas

    I don’t think he can do worse at Fox than he’s doing at NBC… so, while not necessarily ideal, it seems like the best option to me. Or he could take some time off (while still getting paid by NBC for the next four years), and then ostensibly take over for whichever late nighter is leaving next.

    • Jack

      That is a great idea except it would suck because he wouldn’t be on TV. But otherwise I think your plan is smart.

    • D

      Leno and Letterman have both had heart troubles…I think Letterman may retire in 2012. Who knows what they have promised Ferguson :) ?

  • David J

    Good for Conan for standing up for himself and not letting Leno and NBC walk all over him.

    As for what he should do, the HOPE is that NBC ditches Leno altogether and sticks with Conan… but more likely he’ll be going to Fox. Personally, as a fan, I’d be more likely to watch (or at least DVR for later) if he regained some of his edge and twisted humor at Fox– right now his Tonight Show is just too bland for me.

  • Tricia

    team conan! :)

    • Kristen

      Conando all the way!

  • Ivan

    Dave might kill Conan in the ratings, but I think if Jay and NBC steal the Tonight Show job from under Conan even loyal Jay views will abandon ship. Not to mention NBC still has no 10 pm primetime so viewer might stick with an ABC or a Fox and watch Conan vs. whatever NBC crapfest is on.

    • James

      Yeah, I’m getting the feeling that permanent damage has been done to Leno’s career and reputation with all this mess. He’s definitely come out of this looking like the bad guy, and Conan’s reputation has definitely risen.

    • nacf

      I recent poll (today) showed that 45% of people will follow Leno and 35% will follow Conan and 20% would stick with Lettermen. Conan does not even compare to Leno. Conan’s career is on the line not Leno’s. Everywhere Leno goes he sells out. Where does Conan go? Oh yeah he doesn’t.

      • Johnification

        Yup, you’re right, Leno is a giant sell-out. Conan is the classy pop artist choosing dignity over employment.

      • Ron

        Polls mean nothing. Polls are based on a small number of people. Another poll could easily have the majority following Conan.

        Conan was wronged by NBC and Jay Leno. They never gave him a fair shot. Leno should retire already. NBC is going to have to replace him in 3-5 years anyway. They just shot themselves in the foot by forcing out Conan (who is a much smarter, funnier comedian) to keep Leno happy.

      • JJ

        Polls have no value whatsoever. There are all sorts of confounding factors. Where was this poll coming from, exactly?

      • Brandur

        The far left Obamaist network? Wait… I hgtuoht Obama was no longer far left, only 3 days ago, the far-left were being attacked by Obamists over the race card? So wait, Obama is in the far left, even though Obamists are attacking the far left?Random house hires Colter to write these sick books, because I suppose they need something that is a huge, huge money loser to write off. I suppose the Coulter books, lose so much money they are able to cook the books, to actually make money off the loss…. So Coulter gets paid for failing and the accountants figure out a way to turn a failure into a profit…. Thousands of her books are available for $5.How is she successful ,when 3 months after releasing a book, instead of going to soft-cover, the hardcovers go into the $5 bin?

  • Daniel

    Why not go to Comedy Central? It would be the perfect lineup

    • Lara

      My thought too. Go to comedy central at midnight. That would be 2 hours of the best late night tv around. And cable would allow Conan to do pretty much anything he wants.

    • Caitlin

      That would be awesome. The reason I always miss Conan is because he comes on the same time as Colbert. If he went to Comedy Central, I’d never have to miss him again.

      • Marcus

        This smells like aohentr Coulter Publicity Stunt(tm) to gin up buzz for her latest book.Ann Coulter isn’t a political or social thinker; she’s a self-promoting bomb thrower who managed to get herself fired from National Review because of her antics. Most conservatives I know keep her at arms length.

    • Mark

      As much as I would love that, if Conan’s not going to go on NBC at 12pm, he’s probably not going to accept Comedy Central at 12pm. Maybe 10pm? I’d watch.

      • Cori

        Comedy Central for Conan never occurred to me, but I think it’s BRILLIANT. Conan, Colbert, and Stewart? I’m set for life for late night and we can have more classic showdowns. Please make it happen Conan :D

    • KG

      That would be AWESOME!!!! I would definitely watch (especially if the Conan-Colbert-Stewart “feud” was renewed). :D

  • ren

    nbc will realize what a huge mistake they are doing by moving the Tonight Show a half hour to 12:05am, they’re goin to keep Conan on the tonight show at 11:35pm, thereby cutting off any ties with Leno. Hopefully Leno will then retire and realize he will never be as funny, hip or creative as Conan, Letterman, or Kimmel. Hopefully we’ll never hear from Leno ever again. Leno is washed up, has the cheesiest bland writing team ever in the history of late night television. Leno got lucky with attracting viewers when he was doing the Tonight Show. Nbc had decent drama/reality shows over the years at the 10pm slot shows to carry over the audience to watch the Tonight Show that has had a legacy because of Johnny Carson. This is a new hipper generation that will appreciate Conan now. Leno blows!!!

    • JT

      NBC is in bed with Leno, you must learn to accept. They are essentially given up there future for the present.

    • Jeremy

      Geez the idiots online! first off now that Conan is gone, Leno is going to go a full hour. O Brian said screw it. So he is no longer part of NBC. this isnt Leno fault conans fault or anybody else. Its douchebag NBC. they never had good programming. EXCEPT OFFICE thats the only thing that is keeping them alive… your research

      • Gordon

        go back to grammar school

  • chinsy

    Where’s Leno’s letter telling NBC they are hurting the Tonight Show franchise?!?!!? I forgot, Conan’s the one with class! I will watch you anywhere Conan! Even against Stewart and Colbert (but you will be victim to time shifted viewing!)

    • nacf

      Leno doesn’t need a letter he put in 17yrs with that franchise and that franchise also treated him badly. He doesn’t need a letter. Conan on the other hand does need a letter because he doesn’t have the clout Leno has. If Conan had class he wouldn’t have threatened NBC with moving to fox if they didn’t give him a time frame of when he could take over TTS. That is not classy but dirty and underhanded and NBC got greedy.

      • Bill

        you’re a moron.

  • Sharlin

    and don’t forget Jay Leno!!

    • Sharlin

      he of all should have a sense of history since he replaced johnny carson.

      • Alex

        What would be the point of a half hour show? You can’t have any guests, you can’t have an audience. Leno should retire gracefully–he has had, what 15 or so years– then live like Jerry Seinfeld, doing the occasional standup when he’s not buying cars and rolling in money.

      • Vandelay

        Stewart and Colbert seem to be able to have both guests and an audience in their 30-minute shows.

      • Alex

        Ah, forgot about those guys–and I love them both! Yes, strike my comment.

      • Emma

        Vandelay: I see your point but their interviews always come off incredibly rushed.

      • nacf

        Ya know, Carson was funny but behind the scences he was not very friendly. If Carson was so concerned about history and had been more adult he would have treated his sucessor a lot nicer. It was not Leno’s fault NBC picked him so why should Carson then treat Leno like a piece of shit? Carson is not the great man you think he is.

      • dakmart

        nacf — A little history here: yes, it is Leno’s fault that NBC picked him. Leno essentially stole the Tonight Show from both Carson and Letterman — Leno’s manager had Carson squeezed out before he was ready, and Carson was not even asked by NBC who his successor should be (when he had been grooming Letterman). Considering how circumspect Carson was in the aftermath of his departure, he acted with plenty of class.

    • sosgemini

      Thank you! Not sure why Ken Tucker ignored the big ass white chin laying in the living room. If it were not for Leno, none of this would be happening.

      • Emma

        Not everyone hates Leno. Lay off.

      • @Emma

        You’re so right!! My grandma, who is 88, and dead, loves Leno!

      • Olivia


      • yoolivia

        Laugh all you want Olivia, but Leno creams Conan every night in the ratings. Conan is just not funny.

    • Stephanie Tanner

      he has no sense of history, just his selfish desire to be on tv and tell his lame jokes

      • trudy

        Oh Steph, I so agree. I always thought watching Conan was like watching a bad 7th grade talent show. The man has no class atall.

      • Tar

        Was Steph referencing Leno or Conan? My take was Leno.

      • Reason

        Ya Trudy like all fans of leno is clearly a deluded cunt flap

      • LB

        yeah, i think it was a leno reference

      • yoolivia

        No, I think she was talking about Conan and I agree he is like watching a 7th grade talent show his humor is so juvinal.

      • Bill

        At least there is humor unlike anything Leno does. There’s a reason his 10pm show is in the toilet, he doesn’t have the brand of the Tonight Show to carry his lame jokes.


    I think Conan should stay on the Tonight Show and Jay should just say goodbye. No time slot changes. None of that. Give Conan the chance Jay was given. Honor the contract and see what happens in a couple of years.

    • Lala

      Well, that makes COMPLETE sense, but it is NBC after all, so obviously that’s not going to happen…

  • jmmj

    nix the leno show. leno needs to retire – he is no longer funny, relevant, or entertaining by any measure.

    • Hardy

      I ordered a copy of her book from Amazon after hinaerg about the life time ban. I’m sure she is going to fabulously from the book sales.And the losers at NBC woke up and backed down. They will have her on the show on Wednesday.NBC viewership numbers will skyrocket on that morning. So both sides come out ahead. But Coulter’s influence has taken a big step forward.

    • Erkan

      “Beyond that, how much responsibility do you think the sioattn and network are willing to accept for potential damage caused by blatantly encouraging racial tensions?”How much responsibility does AP have for showing two pictures of people in chest deep water, carrying food. The photo of a black man was captioned “looter” and the white couple “were getting food”.

  • Pete

    Conan should hold his ground. Jay has been able to stab people in the back while pretending that he was just a blue-collar schlub just caught up by circumstance. This whole fiasco is specifically because Jay had too big an ego to walk away and be the bigger man. Heck, in the week since this all happened, Jay hasn’t as much as acknowledged Conan or Jimmy Fallon. It’s always been about Jay, and because of that Conan seized the high ground.

    If/When Conan leaves, Jay is going to be surprised to see that big time guests aren’t going to flock to be booked on the Tonight Show, and will gravitate towards Conan as a protest. That’s EXACTLY what happened when Jay screwed over Letterman in 1992.

    • Jeremy

      I’m wondering if Conan were to just bite the bullet for now, and make the move to 12:05, if Jay’s new half hour show would crumble after several months and be canceled anyway, the “Tonight” would just go back to it’s original slot. But that would be a gamble.

  • Jim

    First of all, Jerry Seinfeld is an ass and an idiot and should keep his prominent nose out of other people’s business affairs, and quit trying to be Jay’s mouthpiece. Jay should speak for himself if he has any guts. There is a simple solution to this–put the local newscasts on earlier, Jay can have his HALF HOUR show, and Conan and Jimmy stay right where they are, as contractually agreed upon. Conan is right to stand his ground, and jay is a selfish idiot for causing these problems, just as he was in 1992. Conan uprooted his family and staff to go to LA to do the Tonight Show, and that is exactly what he should continue to do.

    • S.C.

      Jim, it might not be that simple, because that would be asking all of NBC’s affiliate stations to reschedule their local 11pm news to fix NBC’s scheduling screwup. NBC has already angered the affiliates by giving them a subpar Leno show that gives NO solid lead-in value for the local 11pm news, and so the affiliates are angry; why would they bend over backwards for NBC?

      In hindsight, I do wish Leno had honored Carson’s obvious wish to have Letterman succeed him at The Tonight Show, but NBC saw Leno’s strong stand-up and guest performances during Carson’s run and felt he was the better fit. I would have preferred Letterman, but in the end, it was NBC’s call, not Carson’s, to make.

      Everyone needs to consider one point that may have been overlooked: Leno didn’t really want to leave The Tonight Show, or retire. NBC saw Conan doing well, and for fear of losing him to a rival network for a new late night project, they promised him The Tonight Show years in advance. They transitioned Leno into another show, but the execution – from the 10pm weekday timeslot, to the quality of Leno’s new show itself – was horrible. Leno was consistently getting better ratings than Letterman for years…NBC pushed him out to make room for Conan. My point is not to defend Leno, but rather point to NBC as the ultimate villain. They disrespected Carson’s wishes, let the talented Letterman establish their greatest competition on CBS, promised Conan Leno’s spot before Leno wished to leave, then tried to make a quick buck by running Leno at 10pm, rather than invest in scripted dramas and good storytelling. Now, they are scrambling to do just that, but they have now lost the last thing they had going for them – superior late-night ratings.

    • Merle Balke

      Don’t see how Jay has caused these problems. He didn’t want to leave the Tonight Show in the first place, NBC forced him out to keep Conan happy.

      Shake my head in disbelief when people accuse Jay of having no class. Who gave free concerts to the unemployed here in Michigan, Jay. Who took Polanski and his idiot defenders to task, Jay.

      • Alex

        preach it, brother. i love Jay and if anyone screwed this up… it was NBC, who was trying to retain Conan’s talent by forcing Jay out of the Tonight Show in the first place. NBC was greedy… and I can’t blame it… it wanted to hold onto its talent pool but it made some dumb agreements to do so.

      • Anthos17

        You both don’t know what the hell you’re talking about…when they announced the coming changes bakc in ’04, Jay then announced he was going to retire and not work past the age of 60. He never voiced any disapproval of the changes or spoke up and said “no”, which he could have done! No, now he wants to weasel his way out of the deal now that he’s changed his mind about wanting to host the Tonight Show longer! Get a clue!

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