A storied rivalry between two NBC personalities is brewing and it's not the pair of big-haired hosts you might think. According to Hollywood reporter Nikki Finke, the real in-house feud is between Jeff Zucker and Conan O'Brien. Sources close to the negotiations told Finke that NBC's chief executive is taking a "super tough threatening position" over O'Brien's refusal to push the Tonight Show back a half hour. Zucker reportedly told him "I'll keep you off the air for 3.5 years," enforcing a no-compete clause preventing O'Brien from working at any rival network. Her sources say Zucker felt let down after O'Brien lost viewers to David Letterman. As such, Zucker wants to "ice" the Tonight Show host.
But this isn't the first time O'Brien and Zucker have rattled sabers. The rivalry dates back to the 1980s when both were enrolled at Harvard. In an eerie parallel, Zucker edited the Crimson daily newspaper while O'Brien ran Lampoon, a humor magazine. As Fortune's Patricia Sellers explains, Zucker was once so furious with O'Brien he had him arrested by Cambridge police:
Back in the day, the staffs of the two publications often pulled pranks on each other. And in that vein, early one morning, O'Brien and his pals broke into the Crimson offices to steal that day's run of papers.
O'Brien riffed about this stunt -- proudly, in fact -- when I talked with him for a 2007 Fortune profile of Zucker, "Life imitates TV": "Jeff went nuclear right away," O'Brien recalled. "He called the police. Not the campus police, which were the kind and gentle police. He called the Cambridge police."
O'Brien soon found himself spread-eagled, cuffed, and listening to his Miranda rights -- in the hands of a Cambridge cop.
"I remember thinking that Jeff is a different species than I am," O'Brien said, of course milking the story for comic effect. "That species could easily rip my throat open."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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