[added: Found the quote: "It's damaged goods," Lassally said. "You're not taking over for Johnny Carson. You're taking for a show that no longer has any class. That's not worth anything; that's not any kind of victory. We can start from scratch at CBS and it will be your victory and it will be your show and you're not taking over for this damaged show." Bill Carter, The Late Shift p. 214.]
So Lassally pulls out his final card -- Carson himself -- and as Carter recounts:
Lassally went back to Dave. Call Johnny, Lassally urged him. Ask him what you should do.This afternoon, Conan O'Brien is probably walking, and for the same reasons. From his statement:
"Why are you doing this to me?" he snapped at Lassally. "Don't you understand? I don't care. I cannot lose 'The Tonight Show' twice."
Letterman had never been so conflicted in his life. He knew he had to tell Ovitz which way he was going. He had very little time left. He was running out of ways to analyze it. But he still needed help. So he called Johnny Carson....
"You have to do what's best for your career," Carson told Letterman. "Do what's in your heart." The problem for Letterman, of course, was that in this instance those two sentiments didn't precisely coincide. He asked Carson what he really wanted to know: "What would you do if you were in this situation, Johnny?"
Carson didn't dodge the question. "I'd probably walk," he said. "I'm not telling you to do that, David. But if you're asking me what I'd do, if I had been treated like that, I would probably walk."
It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.The word "consider" before losing indicates that Conan's not walking yet -- the ball remains in NBC's court. The Tonight Show stays at 11:35p, or Conan goes.
But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.
Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.
So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.