The case of Conan vs. NBC continues! The drama has been making headlines all week, and while NBC is facing the worst PR nightmare in years, fans and celebrities are all siding with Conan O'Brien as he’s set to lose the show he inherited from Jay Leno just seven months ago.
Jeff Zucker, the President and CEO of NBC Universal, has been blasting Conan all week threatening to sue him while Conan’s camp has been meeting around-the-clock to strategize their next move.
Will NBC keep Conan around? At this point, it looks like the answer is no. Will Conan agree to stay and go on after Jay at 12:05? Not a chance. Both Jay and Conan have made jokes about moving over to Fox during their opening monologues, but now looks like Conan’s jokes have turned into serious negotiations.
The problem Conan faces now is that if he does move to Fox, according to his current “The Tonight Show” contract, NBC can keep him off the air for at least a year, if not more.
According to Deadline, Zucker has already threatened to sue Conan and keep him off the air for “3.5 years.” NBC is arguing that they didn’t breach their contract with Conan because it contains no specific language about the time period the show would occupy.
But The Tonight Show has always aired at 11:35am and Conan refuses to move that back to 12:05am. “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,” he said in a statement earlier this week. And anyway, it’s called The Tonight Show, not the Tomorrow show.
So what’s with Zucker’s beef with Conan? According to Deadline, via the Harvard Crimson and Yale Daily News, Zucker had Conan arrested while they were Harvard undergraduates. Conan, who was President of their campus humor magazine Harvard Lampoon played a practical joke on Zucker stealing an entire print run of the Crimson before it could be distributed. Zucker called the cops and had him arrested. Geez, no sense of humor!
"He only forgave me when I gave him The Tonight Show," Zucker told a Yale gathering back in 2005.
And Conan isn’t Zucker’s only frenemy. Fast forward to May of 2007 and Jeff Zucker fires Kevin Reilly as president of NBC Entertainment and hires Ben Silverman. Reilly moves to Fox taking on the role of President. Reilly is now rallying to get Conan on his network.
Conan’s show goes on “hiatus” after January 22nd and sources tell Hollyscoop that Fox is going to “push very hard to get him over to their network.”
“There’s a lot of buzz here about Conan coming over to Fox. Everyone is trying to keep the details under wraps because of Conan’s existing contract at NBC, but we all know its in the works already,” a Fox executive tells Hollyscoop exclusively.
“Conan has already told his close confidants that he’s going to take them where he goes,” our source added, which appears to be Fox. Most of his team moved from New York to Los Angeles when he took on The Tonight Show, so he wants to make sure they’re taken care of.
Of course Fox would be a great fit for Conan considering Kevin Reilly, a longtime friend and fan of Conan’s, is the President of Fox Network’s Entertainment division.
On Monday, Reilly strongly endorsed Conan in an interview saying, “He would be a very compatible fit for our brand. He is one of the few guys on the planet that has demonstrated he can do one of these shows every night.” He added that building a successful late-night franchise, especially from scratch, “is probably the hardest form in show business.”
"We have talked to [O'Brien's] people, who we are in business with on multiple fronts, we talk to them all the time, so we've had some informal conversations, mostly about commiserating about the situation. Beyond that, we're not free to talk about any business negotiation or proposition that we have," Reilly said earlier this week.
"Our position on late night has been consistent," Reilly added. "We've been in and out of that business, and it's never entirely off the agenda.
According to Variety, Fox tried to lure Conan from NBC back in 2004, offering him three times his NBC salary, but Conan refused, staying faithful to NBC. Bet he regrets it now!
Meanwhile Conan’s ratings at The Tonight Show are through the roof—just this week he hit an all-time high of 1.9. Most of Hollywood has sided with Conan during this whole mess and it starting to show in numbers. "He's been killing in recent weeks. NBC can see that," reports Nikki Finke from Deadline.
NBC execs are staying mum on Conan’s contract and his inevitable exit from the network, but expect a very warm welcoming from Fox soon. Stay tuned as Hollyscoop brings you the real inside scoop!