"My name is Conan O'Brien and I may soon be available for children's parties," joked Conan O'Brien in his opening monologue.
The funny man put on a brave face, joking on-air about the late night shake up. But behind the scenes Conan reportedly "broke down in tears" when he told his staff he was refusing to host The Tonight Show if it's moved to midnight.
Insiders say Conan is absolutely devastated by all the drama, and sat up all night drafting the extraordinary statement declaring war on his own network, and when he gathered his staff together to read it to them his emotions boiled over.
Howie Kurtz. media critic at the Washington Post says, "This is a humiliating moment for Conan O'Brien who waited for so long wanted to take over this franchise and now he's getting evicted from the guy that he replaced."
Conan is winning praise for his gutsy stand against his own network.
"I'm proud of O'Brien for standing his ground and protecting his own and The Tonight Show's future," writes Hollywood columnist Nikki Finke, "It's the kind of principled position you don't see anymore."
Conan's reps reportedly begged him not to release the shocking public statement. And his manager denies it's a negotiating ploy.
"It's him expressing his feelings. It's not about strategy and contracts," says Joe Flint of the LA Times.
"I think Conan is out of NBC. There is no way to repair this relationship. I see it as an effort to save face, have a little fun with it, and make it clear that he feels that he has been screwed by the network and that he wasn't given enough of a chance to establish himself as the host of The Tonight Show," said Kurtz.
Audience members showed their support for O'Brien Tuesday night with a rousing ovation, when he finally said, "Stop. Stop. I may not have that much time."
The late night shakeup has clearly led to a rift between Conan and Jay Leno.
"When I was a little boy I watched Johnny Carson every night and thought, some day I will host that show for 7 months," said O'Brien.
In his public statement, Conan praises iconic Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. He also says he was opposed to moving The Tonight Show back a half hour because it would be "knocking The Late Show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon. It would be unfair to Jimmy."
But Conan makes absolutely no mention of Leno who hosted The Tonight Show for 16 years.
For his part Leno only made a brief self-deprecating mention of the controversy, saying, "I gotta tell you the folks here at NBC don't handle these things well. They don't have a lot of tact. After they cancelled the show they told me if I put on 10 pounds I could get on The Biggest Loser."
We spotted Leno leaving his studio after the show. He stayed an hour longer than normal to meet with his staff.
And though tensions are high at NBC, Late Show host David Letterman is having a blast with The Tonight Show mess!
"In show business, there is nothing more fun, more satisfying, than watching someone else screw up. So we're all really enjoying this," said Letterman.