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Jay Leno set to return to "Tonight Show;" Conan set to walk

[This blog post has been updated]

Jay Leno is set to return to "The Tonight Show" at 11:35 p.m. unless Conan O'Brien has a last-minute change of heart about hosting the show in a later time period.

On Tuesday, Conan announced he would refuse to host "The Tonight Show" at 12:05 a.m., which is where NBC announced it's moving the franchise when its coverage of the Winter Olympics ends in late February.

NBC appears now to be willing to let Conan leave the network according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Conan will likely be allowed to go develop a show for another network -- (cough) Fox (cough) -- before his NBC contract would have expired. An exit agreement is being pounded out.

But it also appears NBC intends to kick Conan as he walks out the door. In an interview, given to the New York Times, NBC Universal Sports chairman Dick Ebersole said Leno was being brought back to late night because of "an astounding failure by Conan," ratings-wise, on "The Tonight Show."

(Conan has hosted "Tonight" for all of seven months).

But just last Sunday NBC Universal Television Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin had insisted, in front of a couple hundred members of the press, that the network was throwing in the towel on its Jay Leno-hosted experiment in programming to margins at 10 p.m. weekdays because TV station executives in large enough numbers had started threatening to preempt the show.

They did so after getting their ratings for the November sweep, showing them how much damage Leno's show had done to the ratings on their late local newscasts.

That day, Gaspin announced Leno would be moved back to 11:35 p.m. to host a half hour show, followed by the Conan-hosted "Tonight" at12:05 a.m., and Jimmy Fallon's show "Late Night" at 1:05 a.m.

At that time, Gaspin said "I can't imagine we won't have everything in place before" NBC's coverage of the Games began.

In that interview, Ebersol referred to jokes about the NBC late night kerfuffle being made this week by CBS's David Letterman -- but also by Conan -- as "chicken-hearted and gutless."

"There's a rumor that NBC is so upset with me, they want to keep me off the air for three years. My response to that is if NBC doesn't want people to see me, just leave me on NBC," Conan joked at the top of his Thursday night show.

NBC started talking to Leno about Plan B when Conan put out his statement on Tuesday, which he addressed to "People of Earth" and in which he said " 'The Tonight Show' at 12:05 simply isn't 'The Tonight Show'..."I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction."

Now, ironically, it looks like "The Tonight Show" at 11:35 p.m. may have been saved.

NBC denied late Thursday that a deal with Leno to return to "The Tonight Show" at 11:35 p.m. had been struck.

But, if you haven't yet caught Conan O'Brien hosting "The Tonight Show," you won't want to miss next week , which will probably be your last since "Tonight" was already scheduled to go on hiatus the following week while NBC covers the Winter Olympics.

Conan's pulling out all the stops to book A-list talent for next weeks show. He's already landed Tom Hanks for Tuesday - very symbolic and kumbaya-ish, in that Hanks was Conan's first real big "get" when he took over "Tonight" seven months ago. Technically Hanks appeared on Conan's second show because, his first night, Conan was saddled with guest Will Ferrell, who came on to plug NBC Universal's latest bad flick idea, "Land of the Lost."

"I received a letter from the adult-film company Pink Visual offering me a role in one of their porn movies," Conan said Thursday in his opening monologue. "In the movie, I'd be having sex with a beautiful woman and just as we are about to climax, I get replaced by Jay Leno."

Meanwhile, the network is maximizing its assets as it plugs the gaping holes in its primetime schedule left by the demise of its Jay Leno Experiment.

Jay's best night was usually Tuesday, following the two hour "The Biggest Loser" and NBC has given that plum 10 p.m. slot to its new drama series "Parenthood," from Ron Howard and now starring Lauren Graham, among others.

"Law & Order: The Mothership" is taking on CBS's "CSI: Miami" and ABC's "Castle" on Mondays, which was usually Leno's weakest night.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" takes 10 on Wednesdays, against ABC's "Ugly Betty" and CBS's "CSI: NY" - neither of those competitors being the biggest guns in those networks' arsenals.

Jerry Seinfeld is returning to NBC's Thursday lineup - this time as executive producer and occasional celebrity commenter on his new comedy-reality series "The Marriage Ref."

And an expanded "Dateline" absorbs the 10 p.m. hour Fridays.

All these primetime moves will occur after NBC's coverage of the Winter Games in Vancouver.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 14, 2010; 6:53 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Next: Ricky Gervais, Rosie O'Donnell rooting for Conan O'Brien


Leno better than Conan, but that AINT saying much.

Posted by: kls1 | January 14, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Meh. Conan loses out. Letterman wins. I go to sleep after news anyway, thank God.

Posted by: tjhall1 | January 14, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Who cares anyway?

Posted by: SolarWind71 | January 14, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Leno should retire - he doesn't appeal to the ones who stay up late anymore. This latest stunt makes him come across as a narcissistic little boy. NBC should be getting rid of Zucker - what an idiot! Conan is far more original and witty than Leno. Everyone will just shift back to Letterman who is having a great time at NBC's deserved expense.

Posted by: 10emlet | January 14, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

What about honoring contracts. They owe Conan his time slot and show. Also should stick to Leno's giving up the Tonight show.
Leno is so stuck on himself and Conan reminds me of Johnny Carson. Given the chance I think he would have had a great show.

Posted by: pannohome | January 14, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Has it occurred to anyone that this entire Leno/Conan mess just might be a very elaborate and well planned publicity stunt? These two guys, and NBC, are getting more free press than virtually anything else going on in the entertainment industry.

Posted by: mcordray | January 14, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I knew there were good reasons for being a mainly CBS viewer. NBC execs aren't thinking with their "big" heads. They're just not thinking, period. Leno is NOTHING as proven by his "big move" to an earlier time slot which promptly flopped. Conan has EARNED my respect. When Leno took over for Carson his ratings weren't exactly stellar either. At least this has confirmed that Conan is a man of principle and Leno is just a prostitute. The winner in all of this will be Letterman. The losers? Clearly the viewing audience. Good luck, Conan. You exemplify professionalism.

Posted by: mamasue | January 14, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

I like Jay but he gambled on this one and lost. I tried to stick with him but the "earn your plug" thing was lame. Still, network TV doesn't give time for adjustments... both to Conan and Jay. Both are worthy. Other comments on this topic are from folks who are so-over television because they can afford to be. Please leave room for us who depend on broadcast to have our opinions too.

Posted by: chesapeake38819 | January 14, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Who cares! I don't watch any of these stale comics and the late shows died after Carson and the shows that preceded him.

I don't even stay up for the news unless something important has happened and I get a bulletin on the internet. I seldom watch any other TV EXCEPT for sports which I will watch past 1 AM if it's an intewresting event.

Posted by: rmilitello | January 14, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the best out of all three is Jimmy Fallon. He's an excellent Host and puts out a VERY entertaining show. To me, Jay Leno needs to work on his cue cards more because he stumbles over the words and it's a distraction for me. (that's a little thing, I know) Conan pushes the comedic envelope and does a great job. For me, it's Fallon/O'Brien/Leno.

I don't know the ratings for Jimmy Fallon, but from what I see ... Leno had the best ratings in that time slot for the Tonight Show (in recent memory) even beating David Letterman on a consistant basis.

Posted by: opks_tt | January 14, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

There was only one Johnny; the others have never come close; although some kudos to Steve Allen and Jack Paar.

Posted by: apberusdisvet | January 14, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

The author of this article should seriously consider a remedial English class.
"a couple hundred"?
"because, his first night, Conan was saddled..."?
"Gaspin said they were throwing in the towel on their experiment with programming to margins at 10 p.m. weeknights with Leno's show because TV station executives in large enough numbers had started threatening to preempt the show after getting their ratings for the November sweep, showing them how much damage Leno's show had done to the ratings on their late local newscasts."?

Posted by: Arpy1 | January 14, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse


I love leno, but putting him on 10:00 P.M. was stupid...

But, what is more stupid is canceling Leo's 10:00 P.M. show and replacing it with Law and Order and it's clones...

Except for Leno, I don't watch any NBC programs... Even though I use to watch Hero's, the Network often cancels programs without giving them a proper ending, like they did with long runing Las Vegas!!!!

Posted by: WVUWEIRTON | January 14, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Good for Conan!! Now he will be free to a do his own cable show or some other network. Wherever he may go, (except pay per view), you can be sure I will follow.

I think it reflects poorly all together for Leno, His show flopped as evidenced by the ratings and its being canceled, The historic "Tonight show" will remain in its time slot, but with Leno as host. Shrugs, You can bet I follow the person not the programming. I watched 2 broadcast of The Jay Leno Show & rarely the tonight show with Jay Leno, (except when he was a "guest" and Johnny was the host) and was I ever disappointed. It wont be long now and NBC will have nothing to offer me so I will be able to "block it" completely using my parental control device. RIP NBC, (Unless of course the GOP's implement some sort of economic bailout scam with taxdollars for that corporation as well).

Posted by: edensasp | January 14, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Im glad that I stopped watching The Tonight Show when Carson left, as far as Im concerned, it died then. Ive always thought Leno was an irritating, wishy washy suck-up to his guests. Following Carson with him was like having PeeWee Herman star in a remake of Citizen Kane. Conan is a little better than Leno (it would be difficult to be much worse), and I sympathize with him in this thing. Leno wanted to have his cake and eat it too, and he got it, the arrogant little jerk. I hope people boycott the show in droves over this. Say goodnight, Gracie!

Posted by: saintsubversive | January 14, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion there was room for each to have their own full show at 11:35 PM... but switching from Leno to Conan every other night. That would offer entertainment style for both viewing audiences, and allow a break for those who don't care to watch just one of them every single night. I also think it would encourage a higher quality show and give us some much needed variety. And by the way, to whoever the Conan-loving poster who said that "only young people stay up late" must be lost in the last century! Late night folks come in all ages and genders - and many younger retirees can stay up late cause they no longer have to get up and go to work.

Posted by: spck | January 14, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Leno should not go back. Going back will bury him. Conan needs to be heard. He is our future.

Posted by: Try2Ketchup | January 14, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I believe that the reason that The Tonight Show, didn't do well, has been because Conan is simply not very good at it.

I think that they cannot break his contract, so they went for something that was in the contract that they could do, something that they knew Conan would not accept.

That's my thought on it,
Debra J.M. Smith
of Informing Christians

Posted by: DebraJMSmith | January 14, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

NBC should have listened to Johnny Carson and given the Tonight Show to Letterman. His recent troubles aside, I am happy that Dave is finally getting the last laugh.

Posted by: britbuck5 | January 14, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

It is a bonus for me. I will not support NBC in their actions so now I will go to sleep right after the news. It isn't that I don't like Leno but his time has come and gone and I think he stabbed his buddy in the back. Not the Jay Leno we all use to know. Sad. Conan will land on his feet if Jeff Zucker doesn't pull some strings and fight to keep Conan off the air. If that happens then I hope viewers boycott NBC. Zucker's actions all belong down the drain. He is not a leader and should not head a network. Good luck to Conan and I hope Leno can sleep with himself. There are a lot of NBC employees working with Conan that now will have to look for jobs. Feeling good about yourself, Zucker? What a loser.

Posted by: lin1945 | January 14, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Quite frankly, Conan was not all that great. Jay may not be that much better, but he is better than Conan. In reality, who cares?

Posted by: wilson0004 | January 14, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

It's business for all of them .Unfortunately Conan made a big business mistake and he's paying for it by not having the time of the Tonight Show in his contract. Had he done that, like Leno did, NBC would have had to renegotiate with Conan to move his show back. At that point he could have refused. Conan and his attorneys are to blame for Conan's situation in my book. I'll still watch Jay. I see no reason for everyone to expect Jay to just throw in the towel. He wasn't ready to leave the Tonight Show especially when his ratings were at the top, but did so graciously. Apparently he made sure his contract for the 10PM show covered him if things didn't go as planned.

Posted by: deanne1 | January 14, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Tens of thousands are dying in Haiti and you are writing about Jay Leno. Go to hell.

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | January 14, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

No honor for Leno. No honor for Zucker. NBC is toast. That's the good news.

Posted by: tuzoner | January 14, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Will there actually be an audience to applaud Leno when he returns to late night? I doubt it. It will be embarrassing. For him. For NBC. For television.

Posted by: dlopata | January 14, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Bub Bye Conan. It amazes me how you ever got a job in TV. You are not funny, entertaining or informative. Leno is much better than you and the rating support my position.

Glad that NBC is finally amking a good decision - Keep Leno can Conan.

Posted by: neil64 | January 14, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Best late night (and former late night) hosts, in order: (1) Ferguson, (2) Letterman, (3) Kimmel, (4) Fallon, (5) O'Brien, (6) Leno.

If you don't watch Craig Ferguson's show, you should start.

Posted by: dlopata | January 14, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I never thought Conan was the least bit funny or even entertaining. Leno I feel isnt' all that funny, but he is entertaining. Still, I think it's a bit of a disgrace how NBC is knifing Conan in the back. But then again, NBC is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democrat party, so such shenanigans don't surprise me in the least.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | January 14, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

I have only watched Conan a couple of times, and while he seems to be a nice enough guy, I didn't find him too engaging
to watch. Leno seems much more comfortable
and he is a lot funnier. Having said that
Leno better hope for sure that his ratings
will be good or this will be really damaging to him long term.

Posted by: happy2bhere | January 14, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Finally, NBC is able to produce some good tv comedy.

Posted by: camasca | January 14, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

In the last few days I have found NBC to at least be slightly entertaining after 10:00 PM, prior to that I hadn’t watched it very much at all, perhaps they can prolong this fighting and turn it into a Reality Show. Now I’m bouncing back and forth between Letterman, Leno and Conan just to see what they have to say about each other.

I stopped watching the Tonight Show regularly after Jonny Carson’s last airing, and thought NBC made a huge mistake when Leno won over Letterman. When Letterman started his own show on CBS I watched it and never turned to Leno.

Now Letterman is getting boring with his love affair with Sarah Palin, why else would he be trying so hard to destroy her, he’s like a little boy hitting a girl because he desperately needs her attention. He should just tell her how he feels, either that or he is scared to death of her. It a good thing she isn’t on his staff!

Posted by: RegisteredMail | January 14, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

I think Conan is getting the shaft...Leno wanted to give up the tonight show and go it alone, well guess what...he failed badly and now that they are canceling him he wants his old job back and thats not fair fo Conan...I hope Conan has a good contract and takes nbc for all it is worth. As for Leno, get a life Leno, you have outlived your usefulnes and are done...walk away with your head high and dont look back.

Posted by: b_tamargo | January 14, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Leno appeals to the over 60 set. So they can all take their Plavix and put on their incontinent diapers and snooz away while Leno fades into the darkness. Leno I thought you were a standup kind of guy with some integrity. But you're just a back stabbing jerk like the rest of Hollywood.

Posted by: chgorich | January 14, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Leno was pushed out of the later slot because it was promiced to Conan 5 years ago. It wasn't Leno who gambled on the earlier time it was clueless NBC.Conan just isn't that funny. Welcome back Jay.

Posted by: obbyscuba1 | January 14, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

the only reason that NBC is pulling the plug on Leno,which was put in primetime by GE owned NBC, is because of NBC's new owner, Comcast. It was mentioned only once, that I heard, by news people that Comcast are the one's pulling the plug because in order for Comcast to make money on it's cable system, it needs shows that can be run as repeats in syndication. Talk shows do not create revenue as repeats in syndication. Therefore, Leno was cancelled in primetime.

Posted by: PEARLSNAP | January 14, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse


"Leno Continues to be Unfunny at NBC. Film at 11"

Er.... 11:30. Or something.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | January 14, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

O'Brien seems to enjoy pretending he is the heir to Johnny Carson. After watching Carson for 30 years, believe me Conan, you aren't Carson! If O'Brien could ever learn that he is not the only personality on the show, he might succeed; however his overblown ego doesn't allow him to spotlight guest talent. He repeatedly stars O'Brien, then there's O'Brien, did I introduce O'Brien --- boring! He deserves to go back to the minors --- perhaps he will learn something.

Posted by: alxzba | January 14, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

I am one who does not watch latenight talk shows, becuase i do not care for any of these guys. But, there are three markets out there, one who likes Conan, one who likes Leno and one who likes Lettermen. therefore, the only reason someone says Leno does not appeal to the latenight viewers, is becuase those making the claim, are not Leno fans. Period!

Posted by: PEARLSNAP | January 14, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Who cares? Broadcast TV is so last century...

Posted by: pochoprof | January 14, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Johnny is smiling down from the Giant Green Room in the Sky! :-)

Posted by: FlowerGuerrilla | January 14, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

All Leno does is read jokes off a teleprompter - WORD FOR WORD. He's not funny. He's shown that he has no integrity either. Goodbye NBC.

Posted by: sandbagger | January 14, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Any celebrity with any integrity should refuse to do The Tonight Show if this happens. Let them do the show with Jay -- and only Jay.

Posted by: ooyah32 | January 14, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Bring back "Manimal"!

Posted by: Ted_Striker | January 14, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

FYI - if you haven't been watching lately, pick it up on hulu - conan has absolutely been on fire - an absolute riot now that he's just letting loose. Enjoy this freedom of expression. It's really quite needed as a break from the bad news so close to home.

Posted by: karstrial | January 14, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

all Leno does is read jokes off a teleprompter, word for word? mmm? Lettermen and Conan doesn't?
It is funny, fans blame Leno for being in the way of Conan and for the mess that is going on at NBC. bottom line, it is not NBC per se, but Comcast. Comcast are pulling the strings now at NBC.
None of us really should not care who does what, when, in latenight TV. Leno, Conan and Lettermen will still get the big bucks at our expense and all we have to show for our loyalty to one host or another is the t.v. remote.

Posted by: PEARLSNAP | January 14, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

I'd tell Conan to chin up, but Jay got the extra chin.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | January 14, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Leno SUCKS !
Scratch off the Tonight Show.

Posted by: brattykathyi1 | January 14, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

It was a big mistake to slot Leno in a nightly show right before the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian. It took away half the audience for both shows. More older folks probably watch the 10 PM Leno, plus maybe the news. Then mostly younger folks watch Conan. Two different demographics.

I would like to see Leno give up the nightly gig and do maybe a Sunday late-night show and/or occasional "specials" in prime time.

Posted by: bernadete | January 14, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

The witty Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson.....and goofy Stooge Conan? What was NBC thinking??

Move Conan's kiddie shenanigans to the Saturday morning cartoon block.

Welcome back, Jay! (But lose the taped bits....relegate Kevin to a non-speaking role....and dump the cast members that were added for segments of the 10pm show)

Posted by: BlanketyBlank | January 14, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

The witty Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson.....and goofy Stooge Conan? What was NBC thinking??

Move Conan's kiddie shenanigans to Saturday morning.

Welcome back, Jay! (But lose the taped bits....relegate Kevin to a non-speaking role....and dump the cast members that were added for segments of the 10pm show)

Posted by: BlanketyBlank | January 14, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Half of the comments on here are by people who say they haven't watchED late night since Carson retired, yet they still have an opinion on what's happening now on NBC.

Posted by: justmike | January 14, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

I see alot of uninformed comments... I am not a fan of either leno or Conan .... but after watching in the last few weeks I can see leno is far better than Conan.... Conan was groomed for the spot on the toight show but it is like putting a square in a round hole... just doesnt fit.... he really is not good at his job. Leno did not want to wrap up and go to prime time... there is more to it than most of the comments tonight... Leno is simply more bankable and Conan is in over his head.... thats life

Posted by: dwright25 | January 14, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: silviamtez | January 15, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: silviamtez | January 15, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

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