STEVE KROFT: So what’s with the beard?
CONAN O’BRIEN: That first day that I woke up and was no longer the host of The Tonight Show, I remember the first thought I had is I am not shaving. And– that was my small victory, you know. OK so I lost the Tonight Show but I’ll show them, I’ll stop shaving.
STEVE KROFT: This has been– quite a year.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Yeah. That’s it. We’re done. This was a lot of fun this year has been is still incomprehensible to me. The amount of stuff that’s happened in my life in the last year is– it’s going to take me a long time to process it.
KROFT VO: AFTER LEAVING THE TONIGHT SHOW IN JANUARY AND HANGING OUT AT HIS HOME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO WITH THE REST OF HIS LIFE, HE DECIDED THE BEST THERAPY WOULD BE TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND BACK TO WORK.
HE ASSEMBLED A LOT OF HIS OLD STAFF, OPENED A TWITTER ACCOUNT, [Conan: THAT’S THE TWEET!!] AND BEGAN PLANNING A NATIONWIDE COMEDY TOUR, SOMETHING that HE HAD NEVER DONE BEFORE, AND ONE OF THE FEW THINGS HE WAS ALLOWED TO DO CONTRACTUALLY. WE MET UP WITH HIM IN SEATTLE.
KROFT: You must have been miserable for the last couple of months?
CONAN O’BRIEN: I went through some stuff. And 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. When we started putting this tour together, I started to feel better almost immediately. And then this there is this, there is almost no better antidote to what I”ve just been through than to do this every night.
CONAN ON STAGE: Doing this tour though, this is a huge milestone for me. This is the first time anyone has paid to see me… oh they’ve paid to make me go away [laughs]…
CONAN PARODY “On the Road Again…”
KROFT VO: THE “LEGALLY PROHIBITED FROM BEING FUNNY ON TELEVISION TOUR” HAS BOOSTED HIS CONFIDENCE, KEPT HIM RELEVANT AND PROVIDED AN OUTLET FOR HIM TO EXPLORE HIS ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, AND ANXIETY WITH MOSTLY SELF-DEPRECATING HUMOR. (MUSIC: ON THE ROAD PARODY)
CONAN PARODIES “ON THE ROAD AGAIN”: “My own show again!! I just can’t wait to have my own show again. I’d even take a primetime show that’s on at 10 anything to have my own show again.
KROFT VO: AFTER 40 PERFORMANCES IN 32 CITIES IN THE US AND CANADA, THE TOUR WILL WIND UP NEXT MONTH AT RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL IN NEW YORK, RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO NBC’S CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS WHERE THIS WHOLE LATE NIGHT FIASCO WAS COOKED UP.
(Leno’s last Tonight Show) JAY: I just want to say: I couldn’t be happier – you were the only choice – you were the perfect choice – you have been an absolute gentleman in private and in the press…
[Audience yells: “CONAN ROCKS!”]
JAY: I agree, Conan rocks. Good luck, next week, my friend [SHAKE HANDS]
CONAN: Jay, thank you for everything… [BOTH STAND]
KROFT VO: LESS THAN ONE YEAR AFTER JAY LENO HANDED THE TONIGHT SHOW OFF TO CONAN O’BRIEN… NBC DECIDED TO CANCEL LENO’S DISASTROUS PRIME SHOW AND MOVE HIM BACK INTO HIS OLD TIME PERIOD AT 11:35 EASTERN… CONAN’S TONIGHT SHOW, WHICH WAS LOSING BADLY IN THE RATINGS TO DAVID LETTERMAN, WAS TO BE BUMPED BACK TO 12:05 THE NEXT MORNING.
STEVE KROFT: Was [it] in the back of your mind that, look, if I don’t do that well, they can just pop Leno back in.
CONAN O’BRIEN: I’m a paranoid person. And I think– I’m the kind of person that can come up with lots of negative scenarios. but I remembered thinking that seemed like– that was a stretch even for me.
KROFT VO: WHAT FOLLOWED WERE SOME UNPLEASANT DISCUSSIONS WITH NBC’S WEST COAST BRASS.
CONAN O’BRIEN: It just felt like the tone went very quickly from, “Take your time, we understand this is a tough decision,” to– (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) you know, “Let’s go.” and that probably helped me a little bit feel like, “You know what? This environment doesn’t feel right and I’ve been with these people a long time. And I don’t like– I really don’t like the way this is going. And when it started to get toxic and I started to feel that I’m not sure these– people even really want me here. Let’s just– let’s just– I can’t do it.
STEVE KROFT: Do you think they wanted you to leave?
CONAN O’BRIEN: Uh, yeah, that’s crossed my mind. Again, I don’t know how thought out this whole thing was. But if they wanted me to leave, [thumb’s up!] it worked.
LIZA O’BRIEN: This was just really, really hard for him. It– it was watching someone’s heart get broken.
KROFT VO: LIZA O’BRIEN, CONAN’S WIFE, WAS ONE OF HIS MAIN CONFIDANTS AND CLOSEST ADVISORS DURING THE DEBACLE.
STEVE KROFT: Did you approve of everything that he did?
LIZA O’BRIEN: A hundred percent, yeah.
STEVE KROFT: You thought he should’ve left?
LIZA O’BRIEN: Absolutely.
STEVE KROFT: What do you think of the way he was treated by NBC?
LIZA O’BRIEN: From my perspective, it felt like they never really gave him the job. That they said, “We’re going to give you this job in five years,” and they kept him with the company, and they– they– you know, he said, “I won’t go anywhere else, and I’ll keep working for you, and I’m in it for the long haul.” And it felt like they– they lost their nerve to really make a change, and– and that– that was too bad. It was a shame, ’cause it– it would’ve been great to see what he could’ve done if he had had their full support, and had some more time.
STEVE KROFT: You’ve got this non-disparagement agreement.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Do you have a copy: ’cause I haven’t read it in awhile. I keep one in–
STEVE KROFT: I have a copy somewhere in my bag.
CONAN O’BRIEN: -I keep one in my wallet. (LAUGHS)
STEVE KROFT: Re– you do?
CONAN O’BRIEN: Anytime people come up to me, “Hey, so what’s the deal with– with Jay Leno?” Hold on a second. (LAUGHTER) He’s a fine and good man. There we go, put that away.
STEVE KROFT: Can I assume that this interview would take a different tenor if that agreement did not exist?
CONAN O’BRIEN: No, it– I don’t think it would. 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.” I don’t– 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.”
STEVE KROFT: Well, you did get screwed.
CONAN: You think I got screwed?
STEVE KROFT: Well, I think most people think you got screwed. I mean, Jay Leno thinks you got screwed. Jay Leno thinks he got screwed.
CONAN O’BRIEN: How did he get screwed again? (LAUGHTER) 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 (LAUGHTER) say who won and who lost? I’m laughing ’cause crying would be sad.
STEVE KROFT: Has Jay reached out to you?
CONAN O’BRIEN: No.
STEVE KROFT: No calls?
CONAN O’BRIEN: No I do not think I will be hearing from him We should get him in here. Is he—
STEVE KROFT: We should.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Is he going to– is he going to be a surprise walk-on?
STEVE KROFT: No, no, no.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Okay.
STEVE KROFT: But he call– if we– if you know his number, we can– I’m sure he’d come over.
CONAN O’BRIEN: He may have Caller ID. He won’t pick up.
STEVE KROFT: I think he– Leno would say—“Look, I was riding high. I was number one and I was still number one when I left and Conan made this deal with NBC and NBC said, ‘Okay, Jay, we’re going to take you off the air in five years regardless of whether you’re number one or number two or what.’” I think he felt like he was forced out by NBC at a time when he was– a strong number one and was pushed out the door. That’s his argument.
CONAN O’BRIEN: It’s hard for me to get inside his head and argue his side of this whole thing. I– I– 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.
STEVE KROFT: Do you think that Jay lobbied for this?
CONAN O’BRIEN: I don’t know. But– what I know is what happened which is that he– went and took that show back.
STEVE KROFT: Do you believe he acted honorably during all of this?
CONAN O’BRIEN: [EXHALES] 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.
STEVE KROFT: You wouldn’t have come back on The Tonight Show.
CONAN O’BRIEN: If I had surrendered The Tonight Show and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well– and then– I don’t– would not have come back six months later. But that’s me, you know. Everyone’s got their own, you know, way of doing things.
STEVE KROFT: What would you have done?
CONAN O’BRIEN: Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that’s just me.
KROFT VO: HE IS EQUALLY DISSAPOINTED WITH NBC, THE COMPANY WHERE HE WORKED MOST OF HIS ADULT LIFE, AND WITH NBC UNIVERSAL CHIEF JEFF ZUCKER WHO HE HAS KNOWN SINCE THEY WERE CLASSMATES AT HARVARD.
STEVE KROFT:Has Zucker called you?
CONAN O’BRIEN: No.
STEVE KROFT: You haven’t talked to Zucker since this offer was made to you?
CONAN O’BRIEN: That’s right. You know at some point I’m sure I’m going to bump into these people. And, you know, I’m not sure we’re going to be– have our arms around each other and drinking beer and singing old Irish fight songs. ‘Cause I don’t think they know any. But– (LAUGHTER) but– you know, I– I wish– this is going to sound crazy. I do wish these people well.
STEVE KROFT: Jeff Zucker was quoted as saying, “At the end of the day, the viewers voted.” And they didn’t like Conan as the host of The Tonight Show.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Can I take back what I just said?
STEVE KROFT: You take issue with that.
CONAN O’BRIEN: In my opinion, I don’t think that’s fair or accurate. But he’s entitled to his opinion. I think for anyone to say that the results were in after six months– that doesn’t ring true to me.
STEVE KROFT: They said that the– for the first time in history, The Tonight Show was losing money.
CONAN O’BRIEN: I don’t see how that’s, I honestly don’t see how that’s possible. It’s really not possible. It isn’t possible.
STEVE KROFT: Did you expect NBC to give you more of a chance?
CONAN O’BRIEN: Absolutely. (LAUGHTER) I– yes.
STEVE KROFT: Do you feel like it was a failure?
CONAN O’BRIEN: My Tonight Show? No. Absolutely not.
KROFT VO: CONAN DOES AGREE WITH NBC’S COMMENTS THAT IT WAS A BUSINESS DECISION MOTIVATED BY MONEY AND HE ACKNOWLEDGES THAT LENO HAD THE MORE EXPENSIVE CONTRACT AND WOULD HAVE BEEN EVEN HARDER TO LET GO.
STEVE KROFT: Some people have reported that NBC would have had to pay him 150 million dollars.
CONAN: Uh huh, yeah. So if you look at it that way and you’re working at say I don’t know General Electric and you tell them, “Uh you know there’s this to make that guy go away or there’s this, uh that decision’s probably pretty clear. And uh I think in my gut I honestly believe everybody knows, that’s what happened they did what they had to do and OK I get it. And the only thing I take exception to is subsequently people saying well you know Conan was losing money and you know actually he was murdering cats…What, you know, whatever
KROFT VO: LAST MONTH, CONAN FINALLY PULLED THE TRIGGER ON HIS FUTURE, RAISING SOME EYEBROWS BY SIGNING ON TO DO AN ELEVEN O’CLOCK SHOW FOR THE CABLE CHANNEL TBS AND NOT WITH A BROADCAST NETWORK.
CONAN O’BRIEN: I do not look down my nose at cable. And I think anyone who does isn’t paying attention to television these days. ‘Cause it is– this world is changing very quickly.
STEVE KROFT: You have $30 million that you didn’t have before. You’ve got– a very lucrative new– gig on TBS, which has– an audience that-
CONAN O’BRIEN: Very young audience.
STEVE KROFT: Custom-made for you.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
STEVE KROFT: It wasn’t all bad.
CONAN O’BRIEN: That’s the point I keep making. It’s crucial to me that anyone seeing this take– 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– 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.
STEVE KROFT: I thought the Lutherans believed that.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Oh, my God. It is Lutherans. (LAUGHTER) Okay. I believe that if I experience any joy in life, I’ll go to hell. That’s what I believe. And — but you get my point.
CONAN PARODIES “I WILL SURVIVE”: “They threw me out… it happened fast, they said please don’t let the door hit your freckled, Irish ass… I hung around the house eating frosting from a jar, I got really into Gossip Girl and sleeping in my car… yes, I’ll survive… yes, I’ll survive …yeah, they kind of tried to kill me, but I made it out alive. I’ve got all my life to live… I have so many shows to give! Yeah I’ll survive… I will survive… I will survive!!!
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.