Conan O’Brien may be close to signing a $40 million buyout that will allow him to walk away from NBC after more than a week of scheduling drama, but Jay Leno, the once and future host of the “Tonight Show” is now the one going on the defensive.
During his prime time show last night, Leno took a moment to tell his side of the story. Although he agreed to retire five years ago, Leno said NBC would not let him out of his contract once it was time for him to step down from the “Tonight Show.” They pushed him to prime time even though he thought it was a bad idea, and he went along with the plan in order to save the jobs of the 175 people who make up his staff. Leno said NBC guaranteed him two years on the air at prime time, promising him that although the show would “get killed” during the first few months up against original programming like “CSI,” it would bounce back during the spring and summer rerun season.
“Four months go by, we don’t make it,” Leno said. “Now meanwhile, Conan’s show during the summer when we were not on was not doing well. The great hope was that we would help him. Well, we didn’t help him.”
When NBC decided to cancel Leno’s prime time show, he said he again asked to be let out of his contract. NBC refused, claiming he was still a valuable asset to the company. “How valuable could I be?” Leno asked last night. “You’ve fired me twice.”
Funny, then, how he’s the one — along with his staff — who still has a job at the end of all this. What will happen to O’Brien and his staff, which is surely just as large as Leno’s?
After the jump, Conan auctions off “Tonight Show” swag, mocking NBC all the way, despite a reported gag order that went along with his buyout.
Previously: Conan v. Leno: The End Of The Week