A former executive at NBC told Hollywood Nonsense magazine that towards the end of Conan O’Brien’s ill-fated time at the Tonight Show Mr. O’ Brien approached the network with a way out of a ‘messy situation’. His proposed to hold off the ensuing chaos that would likely come from bringing back Jay Leno by having the show hosted by the likes of Homer Simpson.
“At the meeting Conan was visibly stressed and peddling for his life and frankly so was everyone else in the room. The attitude was ‘anything but Jay’ and NBC was faced with a big, big problem. Everything was on the table because they all had a lot to lose.”
Mr. O’ Brien told those in the room that through his work on The Simpsons, as well as at industry functions and parties at his home, he had developed close friendships with many of the one dimensional characters. The stories they shared with him, he said, were both bawdy and touching.
“It was a bizarre meeting but when you get desperate television executives in a room once the alpha dog grabs onto something the rest follow like lemmings to the sea. After being assured that it was going to be the ‘real deal’ and not a revival of ‘Who Killed Roger Rabbit “ or worse, ‘Howard the Duck’, the execs gave it the go ahead.”
Rumored to have auditioned for the host position were Woody (Toy Story), Peter (Family Guy) and Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons). “Conan felt that those guys offered three distinct personalities and would give NBC an entrée to a number of guests that Letterman could only dream about.”
Furthermore he had already lined up some ‘A’ list names including Fritz the Cat, (“the Redd Foxx of his genre”), Jessica Rabbit (“before there was Jessica Simpson, there was Jessica”), Lindsay Lohan and ‘The Flintstones’ Barney Rubble.
At that time Mr. Rubble was set to release his tell all book ‘On the Rocks’ which made the bitter off camera sniping of the cast of ‘The Lucy Show’ look like child’s play compared to the deep animosity between Fred, Wilma, Betty and Barney.
In his book Mr. Rubble, who claimed to have a degree in archeology from USC, said Mr. Flintstone behaved off camera in a way much more primitive than the jovial character he portrayed on the show. For example, according to Mr. Rubble, Mr. Flintstone often defecated wherever he wanted to, set fires to the set and grabbed female production assistants by their hair, among other places.
It’s believed that NBC spent close to $ 230,000 for auditions, editing and signing some of the characters on a pay or play basis (ironically paid in rival ABC’s parent company’s Disney Dollars brought at a discount as patrons left the park). In the end the network decided to cut its’ losses and endure the bad press and bring Jay back. Still, as one exec put it, “At least it didn’t end up on TBS.”