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Exclusive: Team Conan Responds to Zucker, er, Ebersol’s Slam

Insider dismisses the NBC executive’s rant as the ramblings of a 62-year-old sports producer

Conan O’Brien’s camp is striking back in response to NBC U sports czar Dick Ebersol’s public crucification of the soon-to-be ex-"Tonight Show" host–  while also making clear it believes O’Brien’s deal guarantees "Tonight" remain at 11:35 p.m.

Officially, nobody’s commenting on Ebersol’s blunt comments to the New York Times.  But one person deep inside Team Coco responded with a mix of bemusement and sarcasm to Ebersol’s tantrum, in which he basically says that O’Brien’s ratings are down because he didn’t bland down his act enough.

"This is the essence of NBC’s problems," the Conan insider told TV MoJoe. "Conan O’Brien is losing his job because he didn’t take the comedy notes of a 62-year-old sports producer."


Meanwhile, Conan insiders are making sure to remove any doubt that previous reports that O’Brien’s deal didn’t specify a timeslot for "The Tonight Show" are "categorically untrue."

They note that during his "Late Night" days, O’Brien’s contracts with NBC always specified that "Late Night" would be the show following "The Tonight Show" and that "Tonight" aired at 11:35. (This was probably to prevent NBC from one day deciding "Late Night" meant 4 a.m.)

In the "Tonight" era, O’Brien has similar language as well, one person familiar with the contents of the deal confirmed. But it’s in an addendum to the contract (which may explain why NBC folks have apparently been telling certain websites that the network could move "Tonight" without penalty).

"There’s a reason NBC is looking to get this done so quickly," the pro-Coco insider said.

What took so long for Team Coco to answer the notion (floated days ago) that NBC only guaranteed "The Tonight Show," and not a specific timeslot? That’s unclear.

There’s plenty of activity around the exit negotiations today. As previously reported, a big talking point is figuring out severance packages for the staffers who moved west and now face six- to-nine months without a job (assuming Conan is back on the air in September or early 2011).

But if negotiators are discussing details like that, it’s a good sign the big issues have been settled. 

One final note on Ebersol’s anti-Conan rant. The whole notion that O’Brien is too "out there" to work at 11:35 or that he hadn’t attempted to broaden his brand just doesn’t seem to mesh with the facts.

Indeed, some die-hard Conan supporters had been worrying in recent months that O’Brien might have become bit too tame.

For instance, one of the host’s trademark moves in the "Late Night" had O’Brien pretending to twist his nipples, semi-suggestively in a sort of odd burlesque imitation. Once he moved to 11:35, such silliness was greatly reduced.

But since NBC made it clear it was dumping Conan, guess what? The wacky stuff (yes, including the nipple routine) has been making a comeback.

Maybe there’s hope yet for a "Tonight Show" appearance by the Masturbating Bear.


O’Brien could be free to jump by fall