The once and future late-night host was finally able to break his silence about his treatment by the network (which, team allegiances aside, is hard not to acknowledge as bad), his new gig and, of course, Jay Leno, in an enormously anticipated interview with 60 Minutes conducted during his tour stop in Seattle.
And while CoCo managed to maintain his now trademark class, he's also human. A scorned human. Which means any lingering Team Jay fans may want to turn away now.
First off, no, Leno (unsurprisingly) has still not reached out to O'Brien in the wake of the late-night mess.
"I do not think I will be hearing from him," Conan admitted. He has, however, been hearing from the fans.
"The biggest thing people come up and say to me in gas stations and restaurants, I have so many people say this to me, 'Hey partner, you got screwed.' And I always tell them, 'No, I didn't. I didn't get screwed. I'm, I'm fine. It just, it didn't work out.' "
And while O'Brien has his suspicions about just how much of it not working out was due to Leno lobbying the network, he won't say. But he was not so quiet about his thoughts on Leno's attempts to get a piece of the public pity party by claiming to have been just as much of a victim as Conan.
"How did he get screwed, again?" O'Brien laughed. "Explain that part to me. I'm sorry. Jay's got The Tonight Show. I have a beard and an inflatable bat. And I'm touring city to city. Who can say who won and who lost? I'm laughing 'cause crying would be sad."
While Conan was as forthcoming as he is legally able to be during the interview, the only time he demurred from answering, rather tellingly, was when he was asked if he thought Leno behaved admirably.
"I don't think I can answer that. I don't think—I can just tell you maybe how I would have handled it. And I would do it differently.
"What I know is what happened, which is that he went and took that show back...Here's what I can say. I'm happy with my decision. I sleep well at night. And I, you know, hope he's happy with his decision."
Conan was equally as upset with NBC brass, particularly Jeff Zucker, who masterminded the switcheroo and whom O'Brien has known since they were classmates at Harvard.
While he was initially given time and space to consider the option the network offered him, there was an almost immediate turnaround in tone, which is when O'Brien first began to feel that the environment was not the best for him.
"I really don't like the way this is going," he said. "And when it started to get toxic and I started to feel that I'm not sure these people even really want me here."
And the chief reason for that, he and critics alike believe, was financial. But not because of any net loss The Tonight Show was suffering under Conan's reign.
While O'Brien infamously got a $32 million payout, Leno by far had the more lucrative contract with the network, and it was reported that NBC would have had to pay Jay a whopping $150 million, or thereabouts, to part with the Peacock.
"If you look at it that way...that decision's probably pretty clear," Conan said.
It wasn't just growing a beard that kept Conan occupied in the immediate aftermath of his TV departure.
"I got very depressed at times. It was like a marriage breaking up suddenly, violently, quickly. And I was just trying to figure out what happened."
Then along came the sold-out, still-running, star-studded Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour and his new gig on TBS.
"I do not look down my nose at cable," he said. "And I think anyone who does isn't paying attention to television these days. 'Cause...this world is changing very quickly.
"It's crucial to me that anyone seeing this, they take anything away from this, it's I'm fine. I'm doing great. I hope people still find me comedically absurd and ridiculous. And I don't regret anything. I do believe, and this might be my Catholic upbringing or Irish magical thinking, but I think things happen for a reason. I really do."
(Originally published on May 2, 2010, at 4:00 p.m. PT)
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