Conan and NBCU’s Zucker’s first clash

Conan has made it clear that he has no interest in having his Tonight Show bumped to 12:05 am to make room for Jay Leno at 11:35. (And wouldn’t that make it the Tomorrow Show, anyway?)

That’s an ultimatum for NBC Universal  CEO Jeff Zucker who must now (quickly)decide either to keep Conan in the slot he was promised or watch him jump to another network — probably News Corp.’s Fox .

Turns out, this is not the first time that O’Brien and Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal, have skirmished. The first was, by certain measures, even fiercer than today.

The first time these two faced off was in the ’80s, at Harvard. Zucker was the editor of the Crimson, the daily newspaper. O’Brien ran the Lampoon, the humor magazine.

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.”

Well, Zucker is one of the most competitive guys you’ll ever meet, He did not apologize to O’Brien. “Why would I?” Zucker told me, grinning. “He’s the guy who started it.”

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