Conan O’Brien Says NBC Exec Tried to Ban Norm Macdonald from His Show

After "SNL" fired Macdonald in 1998, O'Brien defended his late friend to NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer.
Norm Macdonald seen at KAABOO 2017 at the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in San Diego, Calif. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Norm Macdonald
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Remembrances of the late comedian Norm Macdonald have been pouring in since he passed away September 14 at the age of 61 . That includes one from Conan O’Brien who, on his podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” talked about the time NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer tried to ban Macdonald from appearing on O’Brien’s NBC-operated late-night show (via Entertainment Weekly).

Macdonald served as host of “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” from 1994 through 1998. His emcee duties happened to overlap with the OJ Simpson trial, and he frequently made jokes about Simpson that did not sit well with NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, who was a friend of the former NFL running back. In later interviews with David Letterman and Howard Stern, Macdonald blamed Ohlmeyer, whose feud with Macdonald didn’t end there.

“The word came down: You can’t book Norm Macdonald anymore. It came from the top, from Don Ohlmeyer,” O’Brien said. “Don Ohlmeyer was the one who suggested me for ‘Late Night’ — he gave me the job — so I had a lot of feelings of loyalty toward Don Ohlmeyer. I wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for Don sticking with me. I owe him that. So I wrote a letter to Don that said, ‘I got this directive. You’ve hired me to do the best show I can do, and this is my best guest. So I need to do my job, which is the best show I can do.'”

O’Brien said Ohlmeyer told him something to the effect of “I expected better of you,” as O’Brien continued to book Macdonald as a guest anyway on both “Late Night” and eventually “The Tonight Show.”

After “SNL,” Macdonald went on to appear in numerous movies, including Milos Forman’s “Man on the Moon” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” He also voiced Lucky the dog in all three “Dr. Dolittle” films starring Eddie Murphy. Macdonald was also a regular staple on television. He did voice work for Nickelodeon’s “Fairly Oddparents,” guested on “My Name is Earl,” and was a regular on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” He was also a judge on the NBC reality-competition series “Last Comic Standing” and briefly immortalized the role of Colonel Sanders on a series of commercials for Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 2018, Netflix premiered the series “Norm Macdonald Has a Show.”

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