Conan O'Brien to NBC: You Broke My Heart
By PopEater Staff Posted May 3rd 2010 06:47AM
NBC gave him the storied franchise, but then took it back for its old host, Jay Leno. O'Brien still can't believe it, telling CBS' Steve Kroft, "This year is still incomprehensible."
"The amount of stuff that's happened to my life in the last year ... it's gonna take me a long time to process it."
For O'Brien's wife, Liza, it was painful to watch.
"This was really really hard for him," she said. "It was watching someone's heart get broken."
She "absolutely" supported her husband's decision to leave 'Tonight.'
"It felt like they never really gave him the job. They said, 'We're going to give you this job in five years,' and they kept him with the company and he said, 'I'm in it for the long haul,' and I felt like they lost their nerve to really make a change."
O'Brien said he didn't see the point in giving everything to a relationship with NBC that seemed to have no future.
"I'm not sure these people even really want me here," he said.
O'Brien singled Leno out, saying he would have done things differently.
In a transition planned five years earlier, Leno left 'Tonight' last year and O'Brien took over. NBC worried about losing Leno to a competitor, so the network gave him a prime time show five nights a week.
That failed on two fronts: affiliates objected to Leno's low ratings and threatened to pull the show, and O'Brien's poor 'Tonight' show ratings enabled CBS' David Letterman to surge ahead to first place.
NBC tried to please both comics by offering Leno a half-hour show at 11:35 PM and letting O'Brien keep the 'Tonight' show name and begin a half hour later. O'Brien said no and Leno, who never wanted to leave 'Tonight' in the first place, slipped back into his old home.
"He went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know -- I know me, I wouldn't have done that," O'Brien said.
"If I had surrendered 'The Tonight Show' and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well -- and then ... six months later," he added. "But that's me, you know. Everyone's got their own, you know, way of doing things."
Asked by Kroft what he would have done, O'Brien said, "Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that's just me."
O'Brien eventually left NBC. "This relationship is going be toxic and maybe we just need to go our separate ways," he decided. He is set to host a talk show on TBS following his comedy tour.
According to the New York Times, O'Brien held back on criticizing NBC too much because of his buyout and agreement to not disparage Leno or executives. He refused to bite when Kroft suggested he "got screwed." O'Brien responded, "No, I didn't. I'm fine."
When he's asked if Leno lobbied to regain the show, O'Brien said simply, "I don't know."
When asked if Leno acted less than honorably, O'Brien hesitated and then said, "I can't answer that."
During the few weeks between his public decision and actual exit, O'Brien became something of a folk hero. An Internet "Team Coco" tribe rose up to support him, and O'Brien's ratings soared for shows with pointed jabs about his bosses.
NBC and a Leno spokesman had no comment about O'Brien's statements.
His buyout by NBC forbade O'Brien from giving interviews that could be printed or telecast before May 1; the '60 Minutes' telecast aired May 2.
CBS' release of the interview excerpts may be a technical violation of that deal, but NBC wasn't expected to pursue it.
Conan O'Brien Snapshots
In this image taken from video and released by CBS, former "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien, right, talks with "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft, at O'Brien's Los Angeles home, Wednesday, April 21, 2010. O'Brien discussed leaving the "Tonight Show" and his feelings about the exit in the interview which airs Sunday, May 2 on CBS. (AP Photo/CBS) --MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES; NO ARCHIVE; NORTH AMERICAN USE ONLY--
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