In a “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft — his first since the NBC late-night debacle that forced him out — Conan O’Brien says he wouldn’t have done what Jay Leno did to him.
“He went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know…I know me, I wouldn’t have done that,” O’Brien says. “If I had surrendered The Tonight Show and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well and then…six months later. But that’s me, you know. Everyone’s got their own, you know, way of doing things,” he tells Kroft.
Asked by Kroft what he would have done, O’Brien says, “Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that’s just me.”
And you know, I believe that. Throughout the whole mess, this is a guy who stood on principle. Even when he was fighting for his job, in that statement about not going quietly into the good night, he talked about how moving the “Tonight Show” back would hurt the franchise, so at least in principle it wasn’t all about him. He ended up with a legion of fans on “Team Coco” not only because he was getting the shaft but because he wasn’t a dick. Even Reggie Watts, the nutjob who’s opening for Conan on the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour” noted as he wrapped up his set the other night that this tour and the new gig is the kind of thing that happens when you’re a nice guy and treat people decently. He seems like a good egg — and not one to hitch his wagon to the victim role because it’s good PR.
I’d also like to commend O’Brien for kicking it old school and choosing “60 Minutes” — and Steve Kroft no less — as the venue to break his (sort of) silence. Kroft and “60 Minutes” tend to be the g0-to guys for people both trying to do rescue their reputations:
Or build them:
There’s a reason for that. The show doesn’t get O’Brien’s hipster demographic, but it does bring weight and substance, it’s a beautiful counterpoint to the tour antics on the road, and a way to clear the air before embarking on new madness on TBS. Besides, no talk show gets much in the way of Conan O’Brien’s viewership demographics, unless you count “The Daily Show,” and given the new head-to-head basic cable rivalry that O’Brien’s move sets up (and, frankly, Stewart’s somewhat conspicuous silence while Jeff Zucker’s decision-making was hitting the fan), that’s not bloody likely. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Conan for not going the Barbara Walters route (it’ll be bad enough to have to listen to them talk about the interview on “The View”), and for not giving Oprah the full franchise on the whole episode. There’s plenty of talk show air to go around.