SBD/Issue 85/Sports Media

Dick Ebersol Defends NBC's Decision To Return Leno To Late Night

Ebersol Says Conan Is Being Ousted
Because Of His Disappointing Ratings
NBC Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol Thursday said that the reason NBC is returning Jay Leno to the net's "late-night roster after a short stint in prime time this season was a simple one: disappointing ratings for Conan O'Brien's 'Tonight Show,'" according to Bill Carter of the N.Y. TIMES. Ebersol, referring to the "pointed jokes made this week by Mr. O'Brien and David Letterman," said that Leno "had not pushed for any of the changes." Ebersol added it was "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings," and also said what the move is "really all about is an astounding failure by Conan." Carter notes ratings for "The Tonight Show" with O'Brien hosting have "dropped off sharply from what they had been under" Leno. Ebersol also "chided Mr. O'Brien for declining to take advice about how to adjust his show to the 11:35 p.m. slot from the style he had used on NBC's 12:35 a.m. 'Late Night' show." Ebersol added that he met personally with O'Brien "three weeks before he stepped behind the 'Tonight' desk for the first time to urge him to take steps to expand the appeal he had built up in his 'Late Night' years." Carter notes Ebersol has a "longstanding relationship" with NBC Universal President & CEO Jeff Zucker, and has a "deep link to the network's late-night history, having been a creator of 'Saturday Night Live,' and he has been frequently consulted on changes in NBC's late-night lineup." Ebersol said he and Zucker are "big boys." Ebersol: "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" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/15).

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