LOS ANGELES — NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol has defended Jay Leno against comedic barbs from Conan O’Brien and David Letterman in the wake of NBC’s request to move “The Tonight Show” to 12:05 a.m.
According to The New York Times, Ebersol called O’Brien and Letterman “chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn’t beat in the ratings.”
“They’re just striking out at Jay,” he added. “It seems like professional jealousy.”
NBC announced on Sunday that they planned to cut “The Jay Leno Show” down to 30 minutes and move it from 10 p.m. to 11:35 p.m., and they’ve asked to move “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” to 12:05 a.m. However, O’Brien said earlier this week he will not accept the move.
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Ebersol blamed the late night shift on O’Brien.
“What this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan,” Ebersol added, referring to “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien’s” ratings, which have fallen since O’Brien took over the reigns.
Ebersol told the newspaper that he met with O’Brien several weeks before he was due to take over “The Tonight Show” seat last May, encouraging him to broaden his appeal. O’Brien’s people confirmed to the newspaper that the two had a meeting.
And according to the newspaper, Ebersol was not pleased that O’Brien didn’t take the advice to tweak his “Late Night” style to suit the earlier “The Tonight Show.”
“I like Conan enormously personally,” Ebersol told the newspaper. “He was just stubborn about not being willing to broaden the appeal of his show.”
Additionally, Ebersol said arguments by O’Brien’s people that seven months behind the “Tonight Show” desk wasn’t long enough for the funnyman to hit his “Tonight Show” stride, was “specious.”
And Ebersol defended Leno, who has been the punch line of repeated jokes by O’Brien. He told the paper that Leno didn’t push for the changes that brought O’Brien to “The Tonight Show” helm, or the push from the network to move Leno to 10 p.m.
“Jeff (Zucker) and I are big boys,” Ebersol said. “When we do something big in the public forum and it doesn’t succeed, we know we’ll be the butt of criticism. But you don’t personally attack someone who hasn’t done anything.”
“We bet on the wrong guy,” Ebersol added.
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