LOS ANGELES – Conan O'Brien threatened to quit NBC's "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, saying the television network would "destroy" the program by moving its broadcast time to a new slot just after midnight.
A furious O'Brien revealed in a statement he had been told of the new airtime by NBC chiefs following the decision to yank predecessor Jay Leno's new talk show from its prime-time slot after months of dismal ratings.
Leno stepped down as host of "The Tonight Show" in May -- which he had taken over from legendary long-time host Johnny Carson in 1992 -- and was replaced by O'Brien as part of a long-standing agreement.
Leno surprised television industry analysts however by returning in September with a new prime-time talk show, airing just before the O'Brien-hosted "Tonight Show."
However on Sunday NBC confirmed Leno's show was being pulled from its coveted 10:00 p.m. (0600 GMT) slot and would be given a new 30-minute window at 11:30 p.m. -- the space currently occupied by O'Brien's "Tonight Show."
O'Brien broke his silence on the issue Tuesday, however, vowing to resign his multi-million-dollar hosting deal if the proposed rescheduling went ahead.
"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," O'Brien said.
"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.'... I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction."
O'Brien said he was still hopeful that the differences with NBC could be resolved and said he had not received any offers from other rival networks.