NBC Exec Calls Conan "Chicken-Hearted" and an "Astounding Failure"
Top NBC executive Dick Ebersol blamed the network's late-night troubles on Conan O'Brien and called The Tonight Show host an "astounding failure," according to The New York Times.
Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports and one of the key executives involved in creating Saturday Night Live, accused O'Brien of not adjusting his style to appeal to broader audience when he took the reins of The Tonight Show in June.
Ebersol — who the paper says has long been involved in late-night decisions at NBC — said he met with O'Brien three weeks before O'Brien's move to 11:35 about how to expand his audience. O'Brien's camp confirmed Ebersol and O'Brien's meeting to the Times but did not say what was discussed.
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"I like Conan enormously personally," Ebersol told the newspaper. "He was just stubborn about not being willing to broaden the appeal of his show."
Ebersol also told the Times that O'Brien and others unfairly placed the blame on the new Tonight Show's poor performance in the ratings on The Jay Leno Show's poor showings at 10/9c. Specifically, he said Leno had smaller lead-in audiences than Letterman on CBS, yet Leno beat his Late Show competition at 11:35.
Ebersol, long known as one of the network's most aggressive negotiators, also famously clashed with several writers and cast members of Saturday Night Live in the early 1980s.
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Ebersol also criticized O'Brien, as well as Late Show host David Letterman, for both hosts' remarks these week against Jay Leno and NBC. It's "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings," Ebersol told the Times. "They're just striking out at Jay. It seems like professional jealousy."
Ebersol mentioned NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker, who's widely believed to have played a key role in signing The Tonight Show over to O'Brien in 2009 as well as the attempt to push O'Brien back a half-hour to restore Leno to his old 11:35 time slot.
"Jeff and I are big boys," Ebersol said, referring to Zucker. "When we do something big in the public forum and it doesn't succeed, we know we'll be the butt of criticism."