Who can blame Conan O'Brien for taking a principled stand and telling NBC today that he won't do "The Tonight Show" at 12:05 a.m. after Jay Leno's new half-hour show at 11:35 p.m.?
As I wrote in today's column, NBC's plan to put Leno at 11:35 p.m., O'Brien at 12:05 and Jimmy Fallon at 1:05 a.m. would damage all three parties.
The New York Times reported that O'Brien said no to the plan because "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."
He added that he felt it also would be unfair to Fallon to start at 1:05 a.m. and criticized NBC for its lack of support for his own program, which has had only six months on the air and is suffering from poor lead-ins from newscasts on NBC affiliates damaged by Leno's 10 p.m. flop.
As I also said today, O'Brien would have taken a bigger hit for Leno's failure than Leno if he agreed to the plan.
It is unclear just what O'Brien plans to do since he stopped short of telling the Times that he was leaving NBC. It sounds like he is either pressuring NBC to reconsider moving Leno to 11:35 p.m. or positioning himself to bolt to Fox if he gets a large contract buyout from NBC.
One thing is clear: O'Brien is steaming about NBC's bigger support of Leno at the expense of "The Tonight Show."
I could almost hear David Letterman -- who lost his own power play to Leno -- cheering O'Brien in the background.
-- Alan Pergament