A top NBC executive defended Jay Leno, saying that he is returning to late night because Conan O’Brien’s ratings were disappointing, The New York Times reports.
Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports, said that “what this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan.” Ebersol was interviewed by veteran Times’ TV reporter Bill Carter.
Ebersol also criticized the verbal zings being thrown on air at NBC this week by O’Brien and CBS’ David Letterman, saying it was “chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn’t beat in the ratings.”
Ebersol has a long history connected with NBC latenight.
According to the Times’ article, "Mr. Ebersol said Mr. Leno had not pushed for any of the changes, not the original decision to guarantee Mr. O’Brien the show five years in advance, nor the plan to put Mr. Leno in prime time
“ ‘Jeff and I are big boys,’ Mr. Ebersol said, referring to [NBC Universal chief executive Jeff] Zucker. ‘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.’ In this case, he added, ‘we bet on the wrong guy.’ "
On last night’s "Tonight Show," Conan continued joking about the situation,opening by saying, "I’m Conan O’Brien, NBC’s Employee of the Month."
He also joked that he’d been contacted to star in a porno movie where the idea was for him to make love to an actress and right before climax he’d be replaced by Jay Leno.
And he made the crack in our headline, above, about sitting in the esteemed seat as host of "The Tonight Show."
Ironically, as the Leno/O’Brien controversy has heated up the ratings for "The Tonight Show" have also improved.
–Elizabeth Jensen and Chuck Ross