Hours after Team CoCo staged a protest at Universal Studios Monday, Leno took to his soon-to-be Tonight Show Jay Leno Show stage to play peacemaker.
Hundreds of O'Brien fans braved pouring rain outside The Tonight Show set, chanting "Jay Leno sucks!" as a fan dressed as Leno ran around. (No, that fan was not Jimmy Kimmel, who made it clear whose side he was on last week.)
O'Brien himself appeared on the roof to wave to fans, and his staff passed out pizza to the crowd below.
For his part Leno seemed all but ready to reassume his position at 11:35 and asked his fans to take the heat off O'Brien…and put it on NBC.
"Don't blame Conan O'Brien," Leno said at the open of Monday's show. "Nice guy, good family guy, great guy…through all of this Conan O'Brien has been a gentleman. He's a good guy. I have no animosity towards him. This is all business."
Leno explained that business involved a constant back-and-forth process with the network's honchos, who first wanted to give O'Brien The Tonight Show more than five years ago to keep him at the network, then decided to pull a switcheroo when it didn't garner the ratings they expected.
Since the network wouldn't let either of them out of their contracts, Leno said, head honchos assured him O'Brien would be fine with keeping The Tonight Show but moving it to midnight, and putting Leno back in his original time spot.
"What do you want to do with Conan?'" Leno said he asked his bosses. "We'll put him on at midnight, or 12:05, keeps The Tonight Show, does all that, he gets the whole hour," they purportedly said back. "I said, 'OK.' You think Conan will go for that?' 'Yes, yes. Almost guarantee you.' I said, 'OK.' Shake hands, that's it. I don't have a manager, I don't have an agent, that's my handshake deal," Leno related.
Soon thereafter, Leno discovered O'Brien didn't go for that deal at all.
"Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn't want to do that," Leno said. "They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn't want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, 'Yeah, I'll take the show back. If that's what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.' "
After a few minutes of seriousness, Leno tried to get back to funny business.
"Some good news for NBC," he said segueing into monologue mode. "Conan O'Brien and I won a Golden Globe for Best Late Night Drama. Very excited about that."
He added, "CBS is now developing a new sitcom about the troubles here at NBC. It's called Two Men and a Half-Assed Network."
O'Brien turned his ire on the network, too. During his Monday monologue he said, "Last night at the Golden Globes, Julia Roberts said that NBC was in the toilet. NBC was upset and toilets were furious."
No word yet on the endgame for O'Brien. Source have been saying an official announcement about his exit could come any day now, with the Peacock paying a severence of $30 million-$40 million, with his final Tonight airing Friday.
(Originally published Jan. 18, 2009, at 7:32 p.m. PT)
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