Nikki Finke reports that NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker — widely seen as the one to blame for the late night mess NBC finds itself in — has threatened to keep Conan O'Brien off the air for three-and-a-half years if he does not accept the network's offer to host the "Tonight Show" at 12:05.
Finke, citing insiders, reports that Zucker has taken "a super tough threatening position" with O'Brien's representatives:
To counter O'Brien's principled public statement which the late night host issued this week, Zucker "is threatening to ice Conan", according to his reps. "Zucker said, 'I'll keep you off the air for 3 1/2 years.' Which doesn't have a chance in hell of happening. What I really think Zucker wants is to hold him off the market for at least six months to a year until the dust settles and Leno is secure and Conan is squelched." One of the reps even compared Zucker to "Darth Vader" because the NBCU chief "has been so evil" about this.
TMZ reported Wednesday that Conan's contract doesn't actually specify the 11:35 PM timeslot.
Finke further reports that "it has now become clear to O'Brien's reps that Zucker wants to jettison Conan altogether and put Jay back at The Tonight Show at its usual starting time." She describes the idea of keeping Conan off the air for the duration of his contract as "dastardly" and "cowardly" and says "it could be damn effective."