Conan O’Brien Says NBC’s Leno Decision Was Driven by Specter of Huge Payout

Apr 30, 2010  •  Post A Comment

Conan O’Brien, in his first interview since leaving NBC, said network executives decided he should be the late-night host to "go away" because Jay Leno would have required an enormous payout, perhaps as much as $150 million, to leave, Bill Carter in the New York Times reports. 

While O’Brien is prohibited from appearing in television or newspaper interviews before May 1, his discussion with "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft will be broadcast on Sunday. CBS released the excerpts on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times’ Show Tracker blog reports.

O’Brien, who reportedly received a $33 million payout to leave NBC, tells Kroft that he wouldn’t have made the same choices as Leno.

"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. Asked what he would have done, O’Brien responded, "Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that’s just me."


  1. Let’s blame everyone except ourselves for the poor ratings. “If roles were reversed…..I wouldn’t have done that.” BS, your rating sucked and they found a better alternative in bring Jay back.

  2. Jay SUCKS!!!
    He never should have gotten the job to begin with. It was supposed to go to Dave when I retired, but NBC “cocked” that up and has been making huge mistakes ever since.
    Jay SUCKS!!!

  3. Too cute, “Johnny” — the real Mr. Carson was dead [sorry] wrong because Jay cleaned Letterman’s clock for many, many years. And just when you’d think there’d be a backlash, Leno is back on top, thrashing Letterman in the ratings all over again. Conan is demonstrably less funny than either guy in his sixties, so enjoy your short run on TBS.

  4. NBC has this obsession wih Leno…because they fear he’ll go to ABC or FOX and make them look bad…like being in 4th place isn’t bad enough…it is like a sports team that doesn’t want to let it aging star player leave for another team…

  5. Conan is a total asshole if he thinks it was anything else than his sucky ratings! The only mistake NBC made was putting Conan on in the first place. You know what Conan was? He was New Coke! And he was about as good!


  7. It’s really annoying to hear anybody who walked away with a 40 million dollar payday whine about anything.

  8. This argument can go in circles forever — Leno’s ratings sucked just as much in his first year, in fact he came thisclose to getting the boot himself. The difference with him was that Carson wasn’t waiting around the corner, dropping hints that he’d come back if he was asked. Because Carson had class and integrity. Conan’s decisions about leaving instead of being a good corporate boy were modeled after Carson & Letterman’s deadlings with NBC. If there’s no good faith, there’s no reason to stick around. But for an unfunny whore like Leno, those kinds of things don’t seem to matter.

  9. Have any of you seen or compared Conan’s ratings with Leno’s NEW ratings since he returned.
    Seems like Leno is looking very comparable to Conan in the ratings drop.
    I never watched either of them but I wonder if anyone is being biased here.

  10. I, for one an very tired of hearing moaning from that no-talent Obrien.
    I can’t figure how he ever got on TV in the first place, and after NBC paid him that exorbitant exit fee, he should have disappeared and let it go at that.
    Most show biz people know when it’s time to “Get Off,” but apparently he didn’t get the memo.

  11. NBC made the mistake of letting Leno do the same show at 10pm that he did at 11:35… What they should have done was create an entirely different kind of show for Jay. They should have brought Top Gear over from the UK and let Jay host the American version. It would have been perfect for him: cars and celeb’s – the perfect mix for Leno. But, NBC took the cheap route and simply created the 10pm Tonight Show. Who wants to watch the same show twice? That’s why the rating fell. It had very little to do with either Jay or Conan. They were pawns in the game.

  12. You are so on-point right, MrRaditch!
    NBC (Jeff Zucker) loaded the dice against
    any host of the Tonight Show by putting
    Leno on at 10PM each weeknight.
    Why stay up when you could see the old Tonight/Leno show at 10?????
    Zucker is the one who is ultimately responsible for the low Tonight/Conan
    ratings. He should have been sacked.
    Look for Comcast to do precisely that once they get controlling interest in NBC.

  13. So jay came back to beat letterman temporarily. Hey, come to think of it, Conan also was beating letterman temporarily… Oh right, once the Jay Leno show started, that was when Conan started losing to Letterman. And you’ll find letting Conan loose costed $33mil, letting Leno go woulda costed closer to $150mil. Stop trying to blame Conan. You want to blame someone? I’d say the order is 1. NBC 2. Leno 3. Conan

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