It is the most hotly contested slot on US television, and one that caused a media storm in January when the US comedian and chat show host Conan O'Brien was offered $45 million (Dh165m) to leave after only seven months in the job. Now, O'Brien has spoken for the first time about the acrimonious parting of ways with the NBC network, which paved the way for O'Brien's predecessor, Jay Leno, to return to The Tonight Show.
When asked in an interview with 60 Minutes what he would have done in Leno's position, O'Brien replied pointedly: "Done something else. Go someplace else. I mean, that's just me." Leno previously hosted The Tonight Show for 17 years before being replaced by O'Brien last June. The decision, though, backfired on two fronts: Leno's new prime time NBC show got poor ratings, and The Tonight Show, with O'Brien at the helm, lost viewers, allowing their greatest rival, CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman, to surge ahead in the ratings. O'Brien rejected a move by the network to give both presenters a late night slot, allowing Leno to be reinstated.
On his decision to leave the network, O'Brien said in the interview, which was broadcast yesterday in the US (O'Brien's buyout by NBC forbade him to speak publicly before May 1): "This relationship is going to be toxic and maybe we just need to go our separate ways." He is currently in the middle of a sold-out stand-up tour, and has signed up with the cable television channel TBS. His new show will air in November.