Conan O’Brien’s wife Liza, in her first public comments on her husband’s messy divorce from NBC, says the network didn’t fully commit to the idea of Conan as host of "The Tonight Show."
"From my perspective, it felt like they never really gave him the job," Liza O’Brien tells Steve Kroft on Sunday’s "60 Minutes."
"They said, ‘We’re going to give you this job in five years,’ and they kept him with the company, and… he said, ‘I won’t go anywhere else, and I’ll keep working for you, and I’m in it for the long haul.’ And it felt like they– they lost their nerve to really make a change. and that– that was too bad. It was a shame, ’cause it– it would’ve been great to see what he could’ve done if he had had their full support, and had some more time."
Liza O’Brien also admitted her husband was deeply pained by the break-up.
"This was just really, really hard for him," she said. "It was watching someone’s heart get broken."
While CBS News released the juiciest parts of O’Brien’s chat with Kroft earlier in the week, a newly-released transcript has Coco agreeing with Kroft’s theory — advanced here and elsewhere — that NBC essentially dumped O’Brien because paying off Leno would have been even more costly (up to $150 million, per Kroft.)
"So if you look at it that way, and you’re working at say, I don’t know, General Electric , and you tell them, ‘Uh, you know there’s this to make that guy go away or there’s this/// that decision’s probably pretty clear," O’Brien says. "And I think in my gut I honestly believe everybody knows, that’s what happened. They did what they had to do and, OK. I get it. And the only thing I take exception to is subsequently people saying well you know, ‘Conan was losing money and you know actually he was murdering cats…What? You know, whatever."
The interview also dives deeper into what went on in the chaotic days after it became clear NBC was killing Jay Leno’s primetime show but was trying to keep both Leno and O’Brien at the network.
"It just felt like the tone went very quickly from, ‘Take your time, we understand this is a tough decision, to, you know, ‘Let’s go’," O’Brien said. "And that probably helped me a little bit feel like, ‘You know what? This environment doesn’t feel right and I’ve been with these people a long time. And I don’t like– I really don’t like the way this is going’."
The once and future late night host says he didn’t trust NBC’s offer to let him keep "Tonight," but in a 12:05 a.m. slot. The fear was that, at any time, NBC might simply shift O’Brien all the way back to 12:35 a.m.
" I’m a paranoid person," he tells Kroft. "And I think– I’m the kind of person that can come up with lots of negative scenarios. But I remembered thinking that seemed like– that was a stretch even for me."