Before O'Brien took over the Tonight Show, I saw an episode of The Actor's Studio where he was interviewed. I'm a huge fan, and it was easy to enjoy the retrospective of his work on the Simpsons and his subsequent rise to prominence as a late-night host. What I didn't expect was how emotional he was about the opportunity to host a show that he clearly saw as a hallowed American tradition. It was clear that the show meant a lot to him, and that he was excited about the challenge of making it his own.
I think O'Brien is the real thing--the true heir to Johnny Carson and a good guy--and I was really happy that he was going to the Tonight Show. I hear a lot of comments about how "out there" he is and how people have had trouble connecting with him, but frankly, Leno had two years to make ratings and the privilege of at least one proven flagship show to support him. I think O'Brien would have made the connection, given time.
I'm sad that this debacle could mean the end of the Tonight Show, but I respect Conan for stepping aside and not being a party to the stupidity. His statement makes a good read.