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Conan O'Brien Will Leave The Tonight Show If It Starts At 12:05!

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Conan O'Brien said Tuesday he'll leave "The Tonight Show" if NBC moves it to 12:05 a.m. because he won't participate in the "destruction" of the storied TV franchise.

NBC asked O'Brien to continue as host of the show at a later hour as part of its plan to move the "Jay Leno Show" out of prime time.

In a lengthy statement released Tuesday afternoon, the pompadoured comic said that wasn't an option for him, drawing a line in the sand.

"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," O'Brien said.

"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."

He said moving the show to follow a half-hour of Leno would "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.'"

An NBC spokesman said the network would not comment on the statement by O'Brien, who was still slated to do his show Tuesday night.

The statement capped days of speculation about the future of NBC's lineup and O'Brien's career after word surfaced last week that NBC was going to scrap Leno's prime-time comedy hour.

Conan and his staff had moved their families from New York to Los Angeles to take over Leno's throne. And Jimmy Fallon was given his 12:35 a.m. "Late Night" slot. Now NBC wants to basically go back to the way it was and when Conan revealed his decision to staffers many were angry over the entire fiasco, some cried.

A show insider said they were standing by O'Brien.

"[We have] nothing but incredible pride in the show we put on every night for 16-1/2 yrs and even more so in the character of our boss," said the source.

In his statement, O'Brien noted that if took the deal NBC was offering, "Late Night would get knocked back to 1:05 a.m. "That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy," he said.

His ascension to "Tonight" began in 2004, when he signed a new contract that guaranteed him the show in 2009.

O'Brien said he grew up watching Johnny Carson on "Tonight" and it was a dream to have the seat.

"I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future," he said.

"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."

O'Brien acknowledged there has been speculation about his future, but said he has no other offers and has no idea what's next.

On Monday, Fox officials said they were interested in talking to him when he was legally free to discuss the future.

ABC, however, is off the table. The top programmer said Tuesday the network is happy with its current schedule of "Nightline" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

"We don't have any plans to change our late-night right now," ABC honcho Steve McPherson said at the Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena, Ca.

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