LOS ANGELES – Conan O’Brien is prepared to walk.
Relegated again to second-string status, comedian O’Brien on Tuesday refused to go along with NBC’s plans to push his show back a half-hour – upending the network’s hope to keep its two late-night stars, Jay Leno and O’Brien, on its schedule.
O’Brien instead delivered an ultimatum to his bosses: Keep the storied “The Tonight Show” on at 11:35 p.m. – its home for the last 55 years – or risk losing the man once heralded as the future of the program that has long been a pillar of the network.
The high-stakes stance set the stage for NBC to fire O’Brien, and perhaps trigger another late-night TV war among networks if O’Brien winds up at Fox or another rival. The drama underscored how things can get ugly in a hurry when one of a network’s brightest stars believes that he has been betrayed.
If O’Brien leaves, it would clear the way for Leno to return as host of an hour-long “Tonight Show.”
In a scathing letter addressed to the “People of Earth,” O’Brien ripped into NBC for undercutting his brief reign at “The Tonight Show” with a move that he said would “seriously destroy” what he called “the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.”
“So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it,” he wrote.
NBC declined to comment.