Vanity Fair has an excerpt from Bill Carter’s forthcoming The War for Late Night, a behind-the-scenes look at NBC’s Leno-Conan catastrophe. Carter, the New York Times media reporter who in 1996 published The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night about NBC’s previous late-night shitstorm, spoke with enough people involved in the situation to provide an account so detailed, it even includes re-created conversations and dialogue. Yes, there are many rich nuggets to be savored here — about Leno’s contract, Conan’s contract, Conan’s emotional distress, all the angst that went into writing this statement, and a total gimme that Jeff Zucker was one of Carter’s sources (“Zucker, immensely bright and an extraordinarily talented news producer … “) — but mostly, with all that dialogue, there are quotes. Seriously, this piece reads like Jay vs. Conan: The Screenplay. So, to further refute the recent observation that there are no good lines coming out of the movies these days — or, in this case, things that should be movies — please enjoy all the following excellent bons mots. Because there will be a right time to echo Jeff Zucker and say, “Just let me tell you something: you are not going to fucking play me.”
Please enjoy the most quotable quotes from The War for Late Night:
• Conan’s glum expression was unchanged. “I just have a bad feeling,” he said. “I just think Jay’s going to hurt me in some way.”
• [NBC Chairman Jeff]Gaspin said, “I’m not trying to make Sophie’s choice. I’m really trying to be fair to both of you.”
• “I get it,” Gaspin said. “It’s not perfect. I’m offering you both half of what you want.”
• “I know how hard I worked for this,” Conan told the NBC executives. “It was promised to me. I had a shitty lead-in.”
• “Should I call him?” Jay asked. Gaspin, recalling the edge Conan had revealed when discussing Leno in their meeting the day before, and how personal it seemed to be getting, said, “You know what? Don’t call him.”
• Conan listened to Gaspin, still with a faraway look in his eye. Finally he did have something he really wanted to say, something that was all but burning a hole in his chest. “What does Jay have on you?” Conan asked, his voice still low, his tone still even. “What does this guy have on you people? What the hell is it about Jay?”
• “Let me explain something to you,” [Jeff] Zucker said. “I want a fucking answer from you. If you think you are going to play me in the press, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
“I haven’t spoken to the Times at all,” [Conan’s agent Rick] Rosen replied, getting a bit heated himself.
“Well, I guess we know who did, don’t we?” Zucker replied, not quite saying the name Gavin Polone. “I want an answer from Conan and I want an answer quickly. You know I have the ability to pay him or play him, and I could ice him for two years.”
“Well, Jeff,” Rosen answered, ignoring the threat, “we’re going to give you an answer when we have thought about it.”
Zucker remained hot. “Just let me tell you something: you are not going to fucking play me.”
• “Let’s all be aware of this: we’re about to blow this fucker up,” [Conan’s producer] Ross said, full of portent.
There was only one reaction that mattered. Conan stood outlined by the doorway of the conference room, his swoop of copper hair almost touching the frame. He looked directly at Ross, unblinking.
“Blow it up,” he said.
The Unsocial Network [VF]