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Image: Conan O'Brien
Frederick M. Brown  /  Getty Images file
Conan O'Brien's statement about his decision to not continue as host of "The Tonight Show" offers a glimpse at the relationship between him and NBC.
By The Scoop
updated 1/12/2010 5:15:12 PM ET 2010-01-12T22:15:12

In Facebook terms, Conan O’Brien’s relationship with NBC just went from “it’s complicated” to “is single.”

In two words he could have said what required a 552-word public statement, but that would have left us A) without hearing O’Brien’s side of the story, and B) without the chance to read between the lines and look behind the scenes of a complicated talent/network relationship.

Here’s one way of looking at what O’Brien might really be trying to say with his statement.

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.

Translation: You’re totally right, America. I am terribly overcompensated, and it’s tough to make it seem like I’m not whining. So for the record, I’m not whining.

That said, I've been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

But: My boss wants a decision now! Careful what you wish for …

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009.

See, this has been in the works long before “someone” had the bright idea to experiment/manage for margins at 10 p.m.

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.

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Translation: This isn’t just a job to me, this is a dream.

Further translation: Leno’s heart wasn’t in it when he punched in for the “The Jay Leno Show” — it was painfully obvious. At least I was committed to the brand, and not just phoning it in.

Video: Conan: I won't follow Leno 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.

It might be spelled “terrible difficulties,” but it’s pronounced “this is your mistake, not mine.” You cannot fix your mistakes by forcing my hand like this.

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.

I was left out of this decision entirely.

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.

See, that’s why the call it "The TONIGHT Show” and not “The Tomorrow Show.”

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.

How many ways do I have to put this? I have been loyal to NBC.

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.

But I will walk if my only alternative is to abide to this plan you cooked up. Deckchairs, meet Titanic.

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.

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Back to my earlier point about building a lasting audience — all audiences are not built the same. The DVR-playback audience argument works for some, but it ain’t gonna happen here. You kill my time slot, you kill my show.

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.

I’m just really glad that I have a great relationship with Kevin Reilly (president of Fox) and that we had such a connection before HE got fired from NBC, only to be replaced by someone who had to leave early when his experiment didn’t work out. Life sure is funny.

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.

Let’s not make this any worse than it already is, NBC. This isn’t just about me. I’ve got an entire show full of employees who would like to know what their future looks like, too.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way.


(only until we can figure a way out of this contract),


Courtney Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com. Follow Scoop on Twitter @courtneyatmsnbc.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints


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