Stay Tuned
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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Is Jay Leno Returning to Late Night? UPDATED

This morning when I checked my e-mail there was a story in my inbox that NBC was cancelling “The Jay Leno Show.” Late this afternoon when I checked it, there was a story that said Jay was moving back to 11:35 p.m…

And then as I was just about to type this, there was another story in my inbox that NBC is exploring its options and will make a decision before its affiliates board meeting on January 21st.

What that decision will be is anybody’s guess right now but it’s looking more and more like Conan O’Brien may be in trouble…

What brought all this on? The affiliates (the local stations that carry NBC programming) are angry. Although NBC publicly insists that “Leno” is performing just as they expected it to, the affiliates are angry because “Leno” has hurt the ratings of their local newscasts. And Conan has been sliding more and more behind “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

After NBC denied a report from that “Leno” had been cancelled, reported that “Leno” would go on hiatus February 1st until after the Olympics when Jay would return in some form at 11:35 p.m.

“Broadcasting & Cable” is now reporting that NBC is seriously discussing moving Jay to 11:35 for a half-hour show that would be followed by “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

According to the report, if NBC decided to yank Conan off the air entirely, they could keep him off a rival network for two years, but they would have to pay him $25 million. They could also negotiate a smaller payout for an earlier release.

NBC defended Conan in a statement released late today: “We remain committed to keeping Conan O'Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night line-up, as he has been for more than 16 years and is one of the most respected entertainers on television.”

That sounds awfully similar to the statements NBC made when they were trying to figure out what to do with Jay, doesn’t it? Notice they didn’t say anything about remaining committed to keeping Conan on “The Tonight Show.”

You guys know I’d love to see Jay back where he belongs since he never should have been moved to start with, but I’m not sure –if the reports are true—that maybe NBC is righting its ship just a little too late. The damage has probably already been done…

And even though I haven’t been much of a Conan fan lately, even I know he deserves better than this. NBC should have never let it get this far…

UPDATE: "Variety" is now reporting that Jay has accepted an offer to return to 11:35 p.m. The report says that whether it will be a half-hour show focusing on the monologue or a full-blown return to "The Tonight Show" is up to Conan and his people after they decide what they want to do.

Photo Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC