Conan O’Brien joked that he keeps a copy of his non-disparagement agreement with NBC in his wallet for quick reference but still found a way to make his feelings about the network and Jay Leno clear in his first post-Tonight Show TV interview Sunday night.
Appearing on 60 Minutes with correspondent Steve Kroft, O’Brien was restrained through much of the interview but left no doubt about his bitterness toward NBC and Leno.
After telling Kroft that he had not heard from Leno since NBC paid Conan $32 million to walk away and gave The Tonight Show back to Jay, Conan said: “I do not think I will be hearing from him. Will this be a surprise walk on?”
O’Brien recounted the deterioration of his relationship with NBC as events growing “toxic” before joking: “If they wanted me to leave, it worked!”
In general he said the ordeal was, “like a marriage breaking up suddenly, violently, quickly.”
Conan made his feelings about Leno very clear without a lot of rhetoric. When asked if he thought Jay acted honorably, Conan at first said: “I don’t think I can answer that.”
But after a brief pause he added: “I can just tell you how maybe I would have handled it and I would have done it differently if I had surrendered The Tonight Show and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well. I would not have come back 6 months later. But that’s me. Everyone’s go their own way of doing things.”
And that is how Conan handled the situation – killing Leno softly.
The segment showed Conan on his new comedy tour, singing a lyrics-tailed version of I Will Survive. At times CBS’ glee over NBC’s failure seemed a bit too overt with Kroft relishing words like “disaster.”
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But Conan seemed sincere when he said, “I did not get screwed” in answer to public perception that he did. He challenged the notion that his Tonight Show was a failure after six months of bad numbers and bristled at an NBC exec’s condition that the show was losing money for the first time.
“I honestly don’t see how that’s possible,” Conan said.
As for NBC assertion that the show was a failure, he said: “I don’t think that’s fair or accurate. I think for anyone to say the results were in after six months, that doesn’t ring true to me.”
Kroft made it clear at the outset that NBC had sought to send Conan into “oblivion,” with a non-disparagement agreement and a ban on interviews. When Leno first came up Conan joked that he had the non-disparagement agreement in his wallet and pretended to check it before saying sarcastically, “he’s a fine and good man.”
By the time the interview was done, Conan made his position clear, saying: “I’m fine, I’m doing great. I hope people still find me comedically absurd and ridiculous. I don’t regret anything. I think things happen for a reason.”