NBC Universal Sports chairman Dick Ebersol — fed up Thursday after a week of hearing Jay Leno ripped by his late night peers — called Conan O’Brien and David Letterman “chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn’t beat in the ratings.”
“What this is really all about,” Ebersol told the NY Times, “is an astounding failure by Conan… we bet on the wrong guy.”
Ebersol said O’Brien didn’t make the necessary adjustments — in particularly, how to appeal to audiences in the Midwest — NBC brass advised him to, three weeks prior to switching from his longtime 12:35 p.m. EST slot to the Tonight Show.
“I like Conan enormously personally,” Ebersol said, “[but] he was just stubborn about not being willing to broaden the appeal of his show.”
Ebersol, a confidante of NBC head Jeff Zucker, insinuated O’Brien is not taking responsibility for his seven-month slide in the ratings.
“Jeff and I are big boys — when we do something big in the public forum and it doesn’t succeed, we know we’ll be the butt of criticism — but you don’t personally attack someone who hasn’t done anything,” he said, referring to Leno.