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Will Jay Leno Win By Losing?

And oust Conan in the process? TMZ says yes.


 

Take this cum grano salis (that’s Latin for “don’t believe nothing until you get actual confirmation”), but TMZ is saying that Jay Leno’s 10 o’clock show will be placed on hiatus and that he will be put back in the 11:30 slot, presumably replacing Conan O’Brien. This follows a day of constant rumours that Leno would be gone at 10 o’clock, followed by a semi-denial where NBC admitted the affiliates were rebelling against his terrible lead-in to the 11 o’clock news, but reiterated their faith in Leno as a performer.

Update: Bill Carter of the New York Times confirms that NBC is “considering” this move.

Update # 2, also from Carter: “NBC Plans Leno at 11:30, Conan at 12.” So basically NBC, roundly mocked for its attempt to have both Jay and Conan, will try to fix its failed experiment by… having both Jay and Conan, but at different times than before. Under this plan, Leno’s “new” 11:30 show would be half an hour, followed by an hour from Conan, followed by Fallon. This would force Carson Daly out of a job, and no one will care. The whole thing will undoubtedly be spun by NBC as some kind of bold experiment, shaking the very foundations of TV — and I will say this: if they had done this in the first place, it might actually have made sense. (Let Leno continue to do his monologue against Letterman, then let Conan do what he does. I personally would be happy not to have to decide between Conan and Stephen Colbert; I usually pick Colbert.) Now, of course, it doesn’t make sense; it just looks desperate, because it is.

TMZ does not have as strong a record with business gossip as they do with celebrity death (where they are now seen as very close to infallible; nobody’s dead until TMZ says so). I doubt they’d announce something like this without an actual source, but there are all kinds of reasons why it might turn out not to be true. These things can be trial balloons that someone puts out to test the reaction, or they can be rumours that are put out to make the actual news sound better by comparison… anyway, it’s not confirmed. Something is going to change with NBC’s talk show lineup, because it has to or their affiliates will kill them. It might not be this.

Still, this does give us license to speculate, and if it does turn out to be true, it will mean that Leno won by losing — by doing a show that under-performed, he has at least created the chance that he could get his old job back. If he’d been a success, he’d have no chance whatsoever of going back to The Tonight Show. Jay Leno may turn out to be the Max Bialystock of TV talk: he can advance his career more with a flop than he can with a hit, as long as the Little Old Ladies (replaced here by NBC Executives) believe in him.

I am not prepared to answer the question of whether Leno’s 10 o’clock show employed Roger De Bris as a consulting director.

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Will Jay Leno Win By Losing?

  1. I thought it was his choice to leave the 11:30 timeslot though — that NBC would have been happy to have kept him there.

    Although, anything that leads to Jimmy Fallon being taken off the air has my support.

  2. Judge me as you will but Fallon and Conan-do are Waaaay better than Leno has been for years. But I may be at the wrong end of the population bell-curve for advertisers.

  3. Leno's primetime show has been an embarrassment from day one. NBC committed suicide, and lost its status as a full broadcast network, when it decided to reduce its primetime hours from three to two. Some really bad cable shows have seen better ratings in Leno's time slot than Leno on NBC.

    Maybe NBC should suffer the same fate that Chrysler and GM will suffer (despite their taxpayer-funded bailouts) and be put out to the pasture.

  4. I've never been clear on the timeline here. Did Conan know when he got the Tonight Show that they were going to move Jay to 10:00 on a new show? 'Cause if so, fine, but I always figured he didn't know (and even that it wasn't on Jay's mind at the time) and I always felt bad and felt that if I were Conan I'd be super ticked to get the Tonight Show and then have Leno come back almost immediately to (perhaps) steal my thunder. If you have time Mr. Weinman, could you fill in some of the back story for some of us who didn't pay attention the first time around?

    Also, like Thwim above I caught a wiff of "Maybe Leno will get the Tonight Show back now, so lucky him!" in your post, but I too also thought leaving was Jay's idea, and was thrown by the idea that he could "win back" something I thought he gave up voluntarily. I guess maybe I'm just not paying enough attention.

    Anything can happen, but personally, if this all ended with Conan still on the Tonight Show and Jay Leno NEVER APPEARING ON MY TELEVISION AGAIN I'd be a happy camper.

  5. I don't know about Fallon, but I'm with you on Conan. I just can't take Jay Leno.

    If Leno steals the Tonight Show away from Conan 17 years after stealing it from Letterman I will consider that a crime against humanity.

  6. Fallon has been pretty good at times, or at least he and his writers have fun, pop-culture-geeky ideas (like the Saved By the Bell obsession). Both he and Conan are far more entertaining to watch than Leno.

  7. So the one thing we do know for sure is that O'Brien did not know they were going to do this when he accepted the Tonight Show job; that was years before this 10 o'clock idea was hatched.

    Oh, I get that part (that Conan's been the heir for a while) but I guess what I really meant is did NBC tell O'Brien about the 10 O'Clock thing before the transition (i.e. "We're going to move you to the Tonight Show on Day X after Leno retires, but just so you know, he's going to come right back and start a new show for us at 10:00"). If so, then fine, but if they moved Conan up either without knowing they were going to do a show with Jay at 10, or knowing that but not telling Conan, then, wow.

    I'd be SO MAD if I were Conan O'Brien and I finally got the Tonight Show and then NBC just turned around and gave Leno a 10:00 show. O'Brien may not be as petty as me, but if I were him I'd have an ARMY of lawyers ready to beat back any plans to return Jay Leno to the helm of the Tonight Show.

  8. Interesting. I've heard a fair bit about Fallon being bad, and I like Jimmy Fallon, so it's made me avoid his show (despite him having, by far, the COOLEST band of any talk show host, ever… seriously, The Roots? How did that even happen!?!?!). I do trust your judgment though, so maybe I'll give the boy a chance!

    • yeah LKO, I am totally with you on Conan, and while Fallon isn't anywhere near the same shtick as Conan i have been pleasantly surprised. Also your already elevated stature in my books has been elevated even more given your props for the Roots. Most nights, that alone is worth watching.

  9. Leno is on at 10 for a variety of reasons, but not stated here is that it is very cheap for NBC to produce Leno's show, which balances out the lower revenues coming in from advertisers.

  10. If Conan O'Brien gets screwed by this I may never watch NBC, at any time of day, ever again.

    • not to mention Max Weinberg. They better not leave Mighty Max in the lurch (though I am reasonably confidence he would be fine, same as Conan).

  11. Since I came straight from Funny or Die to here, I would put in a plug for Zach Galifianakis to have his shot at hosting the Tonight Show.

  12. Mr Leno your pasture is ready

  13. Fallon can be hit-or-miss, but I think part of it is that he's still relatively new at this. It took Conan a LONG time to find his footing, and Fallon's show has definitely improved over the past year.

    • I've been fighting people trying to convince them to give Fallon another shot. His show's improved drastically, though it's not amazing by any means. But I feel that while Conan's writers tend to aim for the stars with new ideas, and sometimes that works out great and sometimes it doesn't, Fallon's writers enjoy taking their established segments – reality show parodies, invented absurd game shows, activities with guests – and writing new jokes within those frameworks. The joy of Cell Phone Shootout this week wasn't just "hey, it's a game show where they take pictures!" like it was originally, but the prizes they offer and their glowing praise of each one, be it a basket of eggs, a used tuba, a 15-year-old Apple laptop, or a spotlight after they turn off the lights in the room, "so that you may question your place as a finite being in an infinite universe." And Fallon's monologue is always great. He seems to only be out there a third as long as Conan, but he picks out the right jokes to do, clearly. It all means that, due to his consistency, I tend to find his show as enjoyable as Conan's now.

      Also, it's like he was psychic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si9HgG25ulM

  14. Oh, I get that part (that Conan's been the heir for a while) but I guess what I really meant is did NBC tell O'Brien about the 10 O'Clock thing before the transition (i.e. "We're going to move you to the Tonight Show on Day X after Leno retires, but just so you know, he's going to come right back and start a new show for us at 10:00"). If so, then fine, but if they moved Conan up either without knowing they were going to do a show with Jay at 10, or knowing that but not telling Conan, then, wow.

    I think you're still not quite clear on how it unfolded. NBC announced in 2004 that Conan was going to take over the show in 2009. At that point, Leno was planning to retire when the switch happened. Leno changed his mind four years later, and (according to Wikipedia) it wasn't until 2008 that they announced that Leno would still be around.

    The situation changed dramatically between the initial announcement and the actual host swap. Conan didn't know, NBC didn't know, Leno didn't know…NOBODY knew that they'd even be considering a 10PM Leno show when they decided to give Conan The Tonight Show.

  15. What happened is a little hard to tell, but by the time Leno got the 10 o'clock show, it was clear that he had no intention of retiring. He was in talks about the possibility of going to another network, possibly Fox. NBC stuck with Conan O'Brien, who had been announced as the successor to Leno some years earlier (whether Leno was planning to step aside, or whether NBC pushed him aside, is not completely clear). They offered him the 10 o'clock slot partly as a way of keeping him from going to another network and maybe beating them.

    So the one thing we do know for sure is that O'Brien did not know they were going to do this when he accepted the Tonight Show job; that was years before this 10 o'clock idea was hatched.

    Now, no one really seems to know how voluntary Leno's "retirement" was, but it became clear last year that he was not going to retire, and wanted to keep on working. And he's said fairly openly that he'd go back to 11:30 if they asked him.

  16. Conan yes. But Fallon just annoys the hell out of me. I'd prefer Leno to Fallon, but other than the headlines bit I'd probably prefer dead air, or even Vince the slap-chop guy, to either one.

  17. "Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he had been transformed into a giant cockroach.
    Too good!"

    Another great clip Jaime. Any excuse will do.

  18. looks like leno at 11:30 conan at 12:00 and fallon at 1 …but many of us on the west coast can watch with time shifting …7:30 8 & 9 …most people with regular jobs don't want to stay up to 2am …. ps often letterman and ferguson have good shows.. its good to turn the channels based on whats on

  19. Sounds like Conan might have a lawsuit on his hands. When he agreed to take over the Tonight Show in 2004, he had a clause that said NBC had to pay him $40 million if they changed their minds.

    I wonder if the contract covered what would happen if they switched and then re-switched quickly.

    Leno is a jerk. His monologue tonight joking about going to Fox if he was cancelled was a pretty transparent shot at Conan's job. I will never watch Leno on the Tonight Show. Not even for "Headlines"

    • Apparently that is covered. I've read that NBC's contract allows them to start "The Tonight Show" as late as 12:05…usually to accomodate sporting events, but they do have a legal out.

  20. So if Leno moves to 11:30, freeing up the ten o'clock hour in the spring and presumably again next fall, is that good news for other low-rated NBC shows (given that NBC will have its hands full filling in five 10 o'clock spots)?

    • That's the rub right there – NBC didn't want to take a risk on a dramatic or comedy series for 10 o clock, which costs big money to produce, so they went with Jay who was a known quanity, and it costs peanuts by comparison to produce a talk show.

  21. At least if Conan moves to midnight he can bring back Vomiting Kermit and the Masturbating Bear.

  22. Actually, Conan was supposed to inherit THE TONIGHT SHOW this year. It was NBC who hustled Leno out about a year or so early, and then (when they heard he was in talks with other networks to do a talk show), gave him that ten o'clock thingy to keep him on board. Maybe if they continue shooting themselves in the foot, it will just drop off and negate the need for surgery.

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