PASADENA, Calif.–The buzz off the floor of the press tour today is that NBC is scrambling for guest hosts to fill in for Conan O’Brien on The Tonight Show. With O’Brien’s turn down of a 12:05 Tonight earlier today, the gauntlet has been thrown down, the ball is in NBC’s court, the answer–one way or the other–should be swift.
On the other hand, as this item is being typed, O’Brien has a show to do. The Tonight Show usually tapes from 5:30 to 6:30 PT. With all this drama, that opening monologue is the most “Must See” thing on NBC in years.
Meanwhile, Cougar Town and Scrubs executive producer Bill Lawrence (left) had O’Brien’s back during and after today’s ABC “Comedy Showrunners Panel.” Lawrence loved O’Brien’s defiant statement released today, stating in no uncertain terms that he will not host a Tonight Show shoved back to 12:05 to accommodate a new half hour comedy hosted by Jay Leno.
“I think I would have been disappointed as a fan had he walked back with his tail between his legs,” said Lawrence. “He didn’t deserve it.”
Lawrence says O’Brien’s predicament is all comedy writers are talking about today. Most are thrilled he “has the balls to walk,” says Lawrence. “I think, sometimes, tough decisions lead to better things.”
The show runner points out that Conan’s strength–self deprecating humour–will hold the talk show host in good stead in the next few days and weeks.
The mistake, added Lawrence, was NBC “mucking it up from the beginning” by doing the infamous five year hand over deal with O’Brien and Leno and then forcing Leno into prime time. “I felt it was short sighted,” said Lawrence, “a move of an entity that doesn’t love television.”

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