In an interview with CNN's Ali Velshi at the Promax/BDA conference in New York today, former NBC Universal chairman Jeff Zucker finally acknowledged what most media observers and Conan O'Brien partisans have been saying for the last 18 months--that he deserves most of the blame for the network's polarizing (and costly) decision to give the Tonight Show back to Jay Leno just six months after handing the timeslot over to O'Brien.
"I don’t regret necessarily what we tried by asking Jay to do 10 o’clock and Conan to do [The Tonight Show]," Zucker told Velshi during a Q&A session. "What I regret is neither show worked. That’s what happened: Neither show worked. And then we had to make a decision about how to fix them."
He continued, "Obviously, we thought it had a chance of success. There were a lot of people who were on board [with the decision]. You probably can't find them now. But that’s the way that goes. Ultimately at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility. Others were on the line to make the decision. But I signed off on it. So ultimately, it’s my responsibility.”
(For those who have forgotten: Zucker's "fix" for the late night problem was a $45 million buyout paid to O'Brien and his staff.)
Inspired by the crowd or maybe just the "serious case of tennis elbow" that confined his right arm to a brace, Zucker offered up a second sort-of-apology to the network he left in January, this one for his inability to develop a Friends-style hit. Again, The Hollywood Reporter was on hand to transcribe his comments.
"Until [ABC’s] Modern Family came along, there was a real drought of comedies," began Zucker. "NBC had a history of being able to [produce hit comedies].But we weren’t able to replicate that. It’s not like our competition was doing it either. It’s incredibly hard in a world where 90 percent of shows fail. Obviously, I feel terribly about that.”