Enemies Conan O'Brien, Jeff Zucker Stun Onlookers, Make Nice at TV Upfronts

Conan Zucker - H 2015
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Conan Zucker - H 2015

That was just one of the things that had people talking in New York last week.

A version of this story first appeared in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Sandwiched between the platitudes and several dozen sizzle reels, the 2015 upfronts served up some noteworthy — or at least gossip-worthy — events. Below is a sampling.

A New Era

Turner stars including Rashida Jones, Anderson Cooper and Samantha Bee packed into midtown's Tao to talk up their new shows to assembled reporters May 13, but it was a chat between TBS late-night host Conan O'Brien and his former boss-turned-nemesis Jeff Zucker, now of CNN, that fueled conversation.

Despite being under the same corporate umbrella for the past two and a half years, the two men have kept their distance, with O'Brien still openly bitter about the mishandling of his final year at NBC. The long-time Late Night host was famously and unceremoniously dumped from The Tonight Show in early 2010 after only months in the chair. (He walked away with a $32 million exit package, along with fodder for his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" comedy tour and an open distaste for Zucker and his predecessor-turned-successor at Tonight Jay Leno.)

But it was O'Brien, whose TBS series got a critical boost from a recent taping in Cuba, who quietly made the approach. The men chatted briefly and cordially by the door, as members of O'Brien's (impressed) team, led by longtime producer Jeff Ross, watched from afar. A low-key O'Brien returned minutes later with a "life's too short" shrug.

Hello, Dolly!

Jimmy Fallon got tongues wagging May 11 when he joked of his boss, NBC's Bob Greenblatt: "We're all gonna miss you, buddy. You've had a good run." But Greenblatt had seen Fallon's script before he graced the stage, says a source close to the network exec, and was smart enough not to edit the Tonight Show host.

The ongoing rumors about Greenblatt's future at the network got another jolt minutes later, when the Broadway lover accompanied country music icon-turned-NBC telepic subject Dolly Parton on the piano for a rendition of "I Will Always Love You" in what many assumed was his "swan song." (At ABC's presentation the following day, Jimmy Kimmel went for the jugular, joking: "I was actually handed a note to read to Bob Greenblatt, if you'll indulge me. 'Dear Bob, we're glad that Dolly Parton will always love you because after what you made us sit through yesterday, no one else ever will. Signed, everyone.'")

Though rumors continued flying about a potential game of musical chairs at NBC, insiders insist Greenblatt is staying put.



Brady Be Gone

To plug its forthcoming coverage of Super Bowl 50, CBS trotted out eight Super Bowl MVPs, including Franco Harris, Roger Staubach and Joe Namath. Missing from that group: Tom Brady, who insiders say was supposed to be on the Carnegie Hall stage May 13 before the Deflategate controversy escalated, leaving the Patriots quarterback suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season.

The Tiniest Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel offered more than hilarious digs (sample line: "We are so diverse [at ABC] that when CBS drives by us, they lock their car doors.") to woo advertisers at the ABC upfront on May 12. Toward the end of his annual roast, Kimmel's 10-month-old daughter, Jane, joined him on the Lincoln Center stage. Kimmel's camp says there was no formal plan had the baby begun crying. Fortunately, a backup plan wasn’t necessary; Baby Jane seemed as comfortable in the limelight as her father, smiling big and even flashing the No. 1 sign as her dad talked about his broadcast home.