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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