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Leno headed back to late night?

NBC is in discussions internally and with station executives about moving talk-show host Jay Leno back to late night. But late Thursday the network officially declined to comment on reports that Leno, who has been hosting a 10 p.m. comedy show stripped across weeknights, will be sent back to his more comfortable perch at 11:30 p.m.

A move back to late night would undoubtedly mean that Leno would stop doing his five-night-a-week primetime show that debuted in September. The timing of the move is unclear but it seems to be sooner rather than later.

TMZ reported that Leno's show would be put on hiatus starting Feb. 1, and that after the Olympics -- which end Feb. 28 -- Leno would return to late night. It is unclear what such a move would mean for Conan O'Brien, who took over "The Tonight Show" in June, while Leno prepared for his new primetime role.

Leno was forced to step down from his 11:30 p.m. spot because NBC had brokered a deal with O'Brien to keep him from leaving the network once his contract expired. The deal gave O'Brien "The Tonight Show" in 2009.

Leno has said more than once that he wished he could go back to late night, but that he is an NBC team player. Since taking over "The Tonight Show," O'Brien has fumbled at least one-half of Leno's previous audience. The bell began to toll for Conan when numbers came out for the fourth quarter, showing that rival David Letterman's "Late Show" was on par with O'Brien among the younger viewing audience that NBC said was its primary target for late night TV.

The development comes on the heels of a pending deal in which Comcast is going to assume majority stake in NBC Universal.

Poll: Who is a better fit to host NBC's Tonight Show?

-Lisa de Moraes

By Nancy Kerr  |  January 7, 2010; 5:40 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Keep Leno on Wednesdays and Fridays only. NBC hasn't had a viable show in those slots in years and Leno is getting what a scripted drama would in those slots anyway. It'd actually help Leno conserve guests and content to make the show more of an "event." each week.

Posted by: DryedMangoez | January 7, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't Letterman's uptick be due to the fact that he had a juicy blackmail/sex issue?

Conan took some time to gain traction as the Late Night host, but he's way funnier and classier than either Leno or Letterman.

The previous suggestion of cutting down the days would make Leno less filler and more of an actual show that may be interesting.

Posted by: kolbkl | January 7, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Strike One:
I've never thought Conan was very funny. Strike Two:
Jay's 'new' show is boring.
Strike Three:
I don't watch either show anymore.

Posted by: momof20yo | January 7, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Strike One:
I've never thought Conan was very funny.

Strike Two:
Jay's 'new' show is boring.

Strike Three:
I don't watch either show anymore.

Posted by: momof20yo | January 7, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

I have never found Conan funny. I couldn't watch his old show and tried once to watch his Tonight Show but he is so lame I couldn't watch more than five minutes the first week he got it. I watch Letterman if there is no sports on at that time. Conan is just not funny, his moves are robotic and so is his humor. He is terrible, NBC would be smart to put Leno back where he belongs, hosting the Tonight Show.

Posted by: info4 | January 7, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Conan got a bum deal from the get-go but played it with class. First Jay decides to not only stick around, but move up the clock. Then just as Conan was getting comfortable at 1130, NBC moved all its marketing muscle to Jay at 10 - which has proven not only an unfunny show, but a horribly awkward one as well. With Jay leading the way local news #'s have taken a dive as well. Way to go NBC. You made 1130 feel like 230a for Conan, and you're going to lose your most innovative talent because of it.

Posted by: prw46 | January 7, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

1. Conan O'Brien isn't funny. Worse, he isn't likable.

2. Leno isn't particularly funny. But he is likable.

3. Late night starts at 11.30 pm. Not at 10 pm.

Apparently, America feels the same.

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | January 7, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

NBC should have it's head examined for switching Leno out in the first place. No way is Conan ever going to make the money for them that Leno can. It's a no brainer!

Posted by: buzzsaw1 | January 7, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

wow, nbc is bungling their personnel in late night, im so shocked.

Posted by: BMACattack | January 7, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm not surprised that both Leno and O'Brian and struggling in their respective ways. NBC was trying to save Conan, save money, and save two audiences. Looks like they've lost on all points.

Leno at 10 ET doesn't appear to be working. I know that I forget that he's on when I'm home at 10 ET and I'm sure other folks do, too. Even his hilarious "Headlines" feature isn't enough to make me remember to tune him in on Monday nights. I liked Jay at 11:30 where he was.

Conan at 11:30 is, presumably, alienating to the older audience who used to watch The Tonight Show. I happen to like Conan's show, actually, but there are times I wish we had the old lineup again - Leno at 11:30, Conan at 12:30.

The Achilles' heel, as far as I'm concerned, is Jimmy Fallon's show. If Conan's not funny, Jimmy Fallon is funereal. Eager to giggle at his own lame jokes, the show is a bigger laggard than Jay's show at generating real laughs. Fallon's show does well enough with the games he does (they did the board game "Taboo" on a recent show, which was enjoyable) and he's good at impressions, but he's a lightweight compared to the other two. If Fallon was yanked by NBC I don't think anyone would notice.

Which brings us back to Leno and Conan. There's two hours in late night, straddling the local news. Surely someone could broker a deal that would make those two guys - and the rest of America - happy?

Posted by: wpreader2007 | January 7, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Conan is getting better - he needs time to settle in.

Maybe Nightline will finally get cancelled - it started as a special for the 1979 Hostage Crisis - it should be cancelled.

That would open up ABC to Conan - and if that happens, Conan will rule.


Posted by: 37thand0street | January 7, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

It is time for NBC to either turn the transmitter off or just put on a test pattern. Constantly putting on shows like The Biggest Loser, Deal or No Deal demonstrates no imagination. Who ever is in charge of programming should be fired.

Posted by: FormerNewYorkerNo9 | January 7, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Correction: Conan has not "fumbled" the audience - Leno has killed NBC's ratings at 10, which have killed local affiliate News at 11, which have dragged down Conan's audience. Leno has killed 10:00 AND 11:35. Conan is #1 with the 18-34 demographic and NBC was right with its original plan to put Leno out to pasture...

Posted by: slambertr | January 7, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I know the networks want to give celebrities a venue in which they can plug their latest products, but is there any other business reason to keep any of these late night shows? Isn't it a tired and dying (or dead) format? Or is it that the networks can't think of anything else to put in the time slot that's (a) as cheaop or cheaper, and (b) that will make as much or more money? They certainly do justify a lot of terrible reality shows with that formula, so maybe this is the same sort of calculus?

Personally, I stopped watching these shows a long time ago, but I guess that places me outside the demographic so I'm probably not the kind of guy whose views matter here. I guess the networks must make money with these things, or else they wouldn't bother. Maybe it's something to do with keeping the affiliates happy -- put on something splashy so the locals don't lose the audience when the local news is over . . . something like that.

Television may be going through a new golden age but I don't think the same can be said for late night.

Posted by: dcpost1 | January 7, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I've always been a fan of Conan's shows, whether at 12:30 or 11:30 (and his work on The Simpsons). If this article is true, NBC is giving him the ultimate raw deal. Leno is just plain unfunny. All of his jokes are safe and you can see the punchline coming from a mile away. Conan's humor, while I understand does not appeal to some folks, is unique and NBC needs to give him more time to gain traction.

Remember, the target audience for Conan is the same audience who favor watching the program at different times (tivo or hulu) unlike the traditional 11:30 television viewer. NBC needs to show some balls on this one and stick with Conan.

Posted by: djgarr | January 7, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Strike One. NBC sucks.

Strike Two. NBC Still Sucks.

Strike Three. NBC is the king of Sucks.

Posted by: dashriprock | January 7, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Conan is by far the more talented comedian - more intelligent and quick-witted. Unfortunately the demographic for The Tonight Show is what, 70-80 years, and they are too used to safe, Reader's Digest type humor. The change was too drastic. I would vote to move Conan back to the late time slot only because that's where his true fans remain. It was Letterman's old audience, who, like me, ditched Letterman's boring yapping years ago.

Posted by: tristesse27 | January 7, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Conan is hilarious. As part of the 'younger audience' referred to, I'm surprised Conan doesn't compete more with Colbert.

Posted by: mausoash | January 7, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

When Leno was hosting the Tonight Show, he was the most unfunny person performing in late night. Letterman, Conan, Ferguson and yes, Kimmel, are all funnier than Leno. It's terrible what NBC is doing to Conan, who's funnier and, apparently, classier than Leno ever will be. NBC needed to give Conan time to gain some traction. As another poster mentioned, Letterman gained because of his scandal. And as a different poster mentioned, Conan's target audience probably doesn't stay up every night to watch his show because they can catch it on Hulu or

Leno back to late night is awful. I guess NBC wants to drop the funny factor at 11:30. Letterman has always been better. (Notice Leno's funniest bits are stuff he didn't write. Example: Jaywalking. That's not his comedy. That's Jay talking to stupid people.)

Posted by: CDon | January 7, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Ahhh ... where is Johnny Carson when you need him. I am aging myself but there was none better than Carson.

I have no problem with Leno, but the essence of the Tonight Show died when Carson left.

In deciding to cater to the young, the Tonight Show became a dumb parody.

Posted by: cogosome | January 7, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Conan's audience is narrower than Jay's (but more vocal); Jay has wider appeal through a larger demographic. Conan could survive in a time slot for which younger (read: college, just barely post-college, and high school) kids would be up late, but he can't hold the "news" audience, which tends to be older at 11:30.

The obvious answer is to move Jay back (he's got another 10 years in him) and say goodbye to Conan. Maybe NBC can find a way to park him for another decade, but I rather doubt it. That's OK, he's a cable act anyway; smaller audiences can thrive there. Sorry Conan, but "that's the way it is."

Posted by: miffedone | January 7, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Craig Ferguson's one-man show has more laughts than the lot of them.

Posted by: LeeBowski | January 7, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

That would be incredibly screwed up to Conan. I love his sense of humor and his show got me through college. Now that I'm married with little boys, I simply can't stay up late enough to watch his show anymore and get up for work on time.

Posted by: DocHolliday1906 | January 7, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

There is just no way that Conan should get canned for NBC's lack of judgement. I am in total agreement here that Conan should go to ABC where he would rule. ABC would love to have Conan. If the three (Conan, Leno,and Letterman) go against each other at 11:30 than Conan wins out. BTW I think this is a case of having two roosters in a henhouse. Whatever panel of members who agreed to allow Leno to have a show at 10 PM should get their walking papers.

Posted by: elchico1976 | January 7, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Lee Bowski. I'll never watch Leno at 10 because that's a continued degradation of the prime-time programming (along with "reality" shows). I sleep through Letterman; occasionally enjoy Conan - but give me Craig Ferguson any time.
But all of you guys - where were you on New Year's Eve? There was a time in the glory days of television when the Tonight Show shared the excitement of the countdown at Times Square. We got reruns? Is anyone watching?

Posted by: merivetti | January 7, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

NBC should give the boot to Leno and give Howard Stern a late night show.

Now THAT would be funny!

Posted by: CBT2 | January 7, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

You want funny, intelligent, entertaining, relevant, & edgy turn to The Daily Show w/ Jon Stewart.

Posted by: jdarby21 | January 7, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Remember Johnny Carson? Yes of course. Leno was let go of way to early. NBC screwed up. Leno was a name as good as Carson. I miss Leno after the late night news. O'Brian doesn't have what Leno has or Johnny had which is a naturalism to be a host. I hope Jay returns.

Posted by: kubrickstan | January 7, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

NBC threw Conan's chances of success under the bus when it allowed Leno to go on air with a primetime show. No Tonight Show host has ever had to "compete" with his own predecessor for market share. Boot Leno entirely and give Conan his fair chance. It takes time and solace from internal competition for a host to hit his stride. I doubt they will because NBC is gutless.

Posted by: seve2yoo | January 7, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Conan is simply not that funny. And he tries too hard. Leno is floundering at 10:00 because he's trying too hard to not be doing the Tonight Show. I've stopped watching both shows, but would watch Leno if he returned to 11:30 and his old better-suited role.

Posted by: hndrsnsbks | January 7, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Leno has never been good, never been funny, and never been relevant. His routine is to stand up and natter on about nothing of consequence or relevant to anything at all.

Conan, however, is not cut out to be some white-bread, low-key nighttime talk-show host. His is a manic, more-edgy comedy. Move him back to midnight or later, bring back the Masturbating Bear, and let Conan be Conan.

Dump Leno, though. The man stinks up the entire network.

Posted by: psienesis | January 7, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Cdon said:

(Notice Leno's funniest bits are stuff he didn't write. Example: Jaywalking. That's not his comedy. That's Jay talking to stupid people.)

EXACTLY! I find the Headllines and Jaywalking to be hilarious, but Jay and his tired old writers have nothing to do with them, they're just relaying other peoples mistakes/stupidity. On the other hand, I still laugh out loud when I think of Conan's "Actual Items" from years ago.

Sure, NBC, if you want to continue your slide into fifth place among the broadcast networks, stick with Jay's over sixty audience and ditch Conan. He would rule at ABC. And to make up for it, ABC should expand the 6:30 news to an hour, 6 to 7. Many local news shows seem to be starting at 4 anyway.

Posted by: kinverson1 | January 7, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

NBC introduced the "new" NBC just as Coke introduced the "new" Coke in the eighties. Now they are scrambling to introduce NBC "classic" having fielded something no-one wants or likes just as Coke scrambled to introduce Coke “classic” when the “new” Coke bombed big time.

You'd think both Coke and NBC asked "What is an Edsel?" before they hired young, know-it-all, punk marketing and programming whiz kids who never bothered themselves with taking the “History of Marketing” or did and slept through it.

But, honestly, you can’t blame the young chumps that made the stupid programming decisions. Blame the old, greedy execs who pounded home that “Leno is far cheaper to produce than Law and Order so fill 10 o’clock PM with something like Leno”. Being kids without an original thought it sounded like “Plug Leno in at 10 o’clock PM”. So they did.

Posted by: bfjackjernigan | January 7, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Now both Leno and O'Brien have legitimate justification for feeling that they were misled, mishandled, and betrayed by NBC. The network perhaps might as well just go ahead and drop them both. If NBC were really smart, they would then try to hire Craig Ferguson away from World Wide Pants and make him the new host of the Tonight Show. Won't happen, of course. What will happen, no doubt, is that Jeff Zucker will unfurl the usual network exec's platinum-lined golden parachute as he is tossed off the roof of 30 Rock.

Posted by: seismic-2 | January 7, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Why not just get rid of all those TALK SHOWS, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH already. Everyone has a talk show and they are all the same ole $HYT. Every station has someone with a talk show, Between reality shows/talk shows and PAID programming, its enough to make one turn off the D@MN T.V.

Posted by: itscc721 | January 7, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Tv stations need to give people choice who they want to watch.
The viewer needs more choice. Jay had that time slot for a long time. Shovel Jay to the later time slot and let Conan keep his time slot.

Posted by: blakesouthwood | January 7, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I CANNOT BELIEVE how bad NBC has screwed this up. This will go down in Network history as the biggest mistake ever.

First mistake: trying to keep Conan by guaranteeing him the Tonight Show without making certain that Leno was truly willing to retire.

Second mistake: Trying to keep Leno, and Conan, thereby screwing Conan and pretty much guaranteeing failure in the transition. How can everyone get used to the new guy if the old guy is on an hour earlier, poaching off guests and marketing? With a no-ratings lead-in, OF COURSE Conan loses half the audience---because they already watched Leno!

Third mistake: Sealing their fate as absolute failures by completely screwing over Conan and putting Leno back in place. Mad affiliates, Mad Conan, Mad everybody.

Whoever is in charge of these decisions, and everyone they know, should be fired. Conan deserves way better than this and should sue them for breaking their contract.

Posted by: hillmannic | January 7, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

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