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NBC's endorsement of Conan O'Brien leaves plenty of wiggle room

NBC executives spent most of the day in lockdown figuring how to spin their plans to get Jay Leno out of prime time and back to late night.

OBRIEN Feeling pressure from affiliates, who have been griping for months about how Leno's 10 p.m performance is hurting their late news and bottom line, NBC is scrambling to put together a strategy to appease them and keep Leno on the payroll.

The odd man out in all this may be Conan O'Brien. NBC wants O'Brien to stay, but his show would move to 12:05 and he'd be following Leno again. The only difference would be that Leno's show would be only 30 minutes while O'Brien would keep his hour and probably the title of "Tonight Show" host. (For complete coverage of NBC's Leno-O'Brien flip-flop see our story here.)

In a statement, NBC said, "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."

What NBC didn't say was it wanted to keep O'Brien in his current time slot.

People close to the situation expect all the details to be hammered out over the next few days. NBC executives are scheduled to meet with reporters on Sunday at the semiannual Television Critics Tour, and if they don't have an announcement then, they most certainly will when they meet with their affiliates in New York in three weeks.

O'Brien's best move may be to sit tight. Fox was interested in him years ago but a senior executive there indicated that may not be the case anymore. ABC is getting by with "Nightline" and Jimmy Kimmel and may not want to spend the bucks necessary to land O'Brien. Plus, Leno can't go on forever can he?

If all goes as planned, Leno could be back in late night as early as March. The network will have to rustle up some programming for the 10 p.m. hour. Look for lots of episodes of "Dateline" and "Law & Order."

If only NBC had this much drama in front of the cameras, its ratings might be higher.

Meanwhile, lots of Conan fans are complaining on Twitter about O'Brien possibly losing his 11:30 time slot and blaming Comcast, the cable giant that is in the process of taking control of NBC Universal. Sorry folks, you can't blame the cable company for this mess.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Conan O'Brien. Credit: Frederick Brown / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (106)

It's simply time for Leno to go home. He's overstayed his welcome on television. He's old hat, and he's stale. Conan's humor is smart mixed with zany, and makes me laugh out loud often. Leno, on the other hand, has been a snoozefest for a decade or more. Go home Jay. Go home.

Bring back Jay!!! Conan O'Brian on Tonight was a bonehead move! He has a niche appeal to a small audience.

Conan is "one of the most respected entertainers on television"? I must have fell asleep for a decade...after all, falling asleep is not an uncommon occurrence when subjected to Conan's cheesy antics.

Regardless, I think Conan is an effective nighttime sedative for Americans who really need to be getting more sleep anyway.

I'm 52 years old and find Leno a crashing bore. Conan is hilarious - we need more irreverence in this world, not less. Carson and Leno were all about "show business" - what a vacuous topic when there's a whole world to have fun with. Conan deflates that approach while still paying homage to his predecessors.

If they screw with Conan on the his seat on the Tonight Show and put Leno back in place, I'll go back to my previous habits - not watching late night TV at all.

I agree about Carson. No one can take his place. It just can't be done. I actually like Dave, Jay, and Conan to some degree. Jay's a great stand up. Dave was good when I was in college (in the 80's). And Conan made me laugh at 12:30 but not so much at 11:30. The problem is that all 3 are sanitized for your numbness now. Dave has been since 1993. We forget how great and innovative he was before that. Leno sold his soul long ago (see Bill Hicks). The weird thing is I flipped back and forth between Leno and Letterman for a decade just praying one of them would become Carson. Never happened. Never will.

I don't know what you guys are talking about - I'm over 50 and Conan has ALWAYS cracked me up. His comedy is GENIUS - the self deprecation, goofy moves, and willingness (no, NEED) to use himself and others on the show as foils for various gags is the antithesis of what Leno offered. That is why Conan was SO popular in his Late Night spot. He is consistently one of the funniest people on television, and deserves the Tonight Show spot. If Leno didn't want to quit, he shouldn't have said he wanted to quit - he ought to take his hundreds of millions of dollars and go rebuild cars for the rest of his life - hello! To NBC I say this: Conan took what, a year? to have the Late Night audience "get" him - the folks who liked Jay will eventually see how brilliant his humor is, and the Tonight Show will once again trump Letterman. Conan, if you're reading this, hang in there, dude. You are immensely more funny that anyone else on TV today - keep up the good work.

NBC needs to drop Leno, take the loss and recoup later, make him a senior NBC page or give him a weekly weekend show on cars. Conan O'Brien / Andy Richter and team have taken the Tonight Show back to it's roots: slapstick / absurd humor with some intelligence and fun. Going over headlines, walking the streets every night and STAGING Jeopardy spoofs to make other people look stupid gets tiring - and old, like Leno himself. Conan's show TAKES US BACK TO CARSON. Hell, he's taken us back to Allen for that matter. Of course the new TS team should not and would not want to simply transplant to L.A. what they had in N.Y.C., but Leno's show did not live up to broken promises or expectations. Conan O'Brien should not have to be bumped up to a new time slot because of Leno's ills.

I believe it is time to put Leno back where he belongs, I agree with previous comment, O'Brien is just NOT funny.

Just bite the bullet and dump that blathering nitwit Conan all in one swoop, then put Jay back at 11:30PM where God intended him to be in the first place. Conan is to late night entertainment as Carrot Top is to Shakespeare.

Right, what they ought to do is play reruns of the Merv Griffin days. That's a good sound policy that the shareholders will love. Maybe they can start calling it the "Erudite Tonight" show.

Things change, the center does not hold. If you don't like Conan because of how different from Johnny Carson he is, your demographic probably doesn't stay up late enough to matter to NBC on this issue.

Full disclosure: Even though I'm 35, I must be a cretinous moronic 14 year old (because I like Conan O'Brien).

This whole mess is Leno and NBC's fault. Leno should not have agreed to "retire" from the Tonight show way back in 2004 and then change his mind in 2009.
Conan is very talented, but he hasn't been allowed to build an 11:30 audience. He comes from the Harvard Lampoon brand of humor which may not suit everybody. Conan was also influenced by Letterman. (While Letterman was influenced by Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs and Johnny Carson). To criticize them for not being like Jack Paar or Dick Cavett is nonsense.

Jay Leno should RETIRE. He has no business still being on NBC television especially with his show losing money. He give up the Tonight Show so why is he still holding on?

He passed the baton to Conan. Conan is the new late-night host and should stay that way. Period. And in 15-20 years, Conan will pass the torch onto someone else and he will retire. This is how it's always been done.

Leno just being greedy. Why doesn't he do something else or just live off the millions he's made?

To those who think the antics of Conan and Andy aren't funny: you're too old and you've given up on life. O'brien's show is about integrity and fun.
Which is probably why you still miss Leno--a man devoid of integrity or passion.

NBC as a whole suffers from bad management. How a network manages to go from Number 1 in the 90s to last for a whole decade in the 2000s baffles me. Who is greenlighting these terrible shows? I don't even remember the last time an NBC sitcom or drama was in the Nielson Top 20 ratings. You see their fall preview every year and just cringe.

I've never gotten past the loss of Johnny Carson. He and his guests were the definition of class. Both Jay and Conan are OK but together don't have enough to shine Carson's shoes.

remember all those magazines and articles saying juay leno is making history? lol what the heck is he doing now?

Sorry to let you know but Conan is the future. Most of the people who don't like him are over 35, which means NBC has to prepare for the future when Leno's demographics start dying.

As a performer Conan is definitely the best. The show feels more geared to the audience as he lets people laugh if they think its funny (and doesn't include shouting and music after the punchline like Letterman and Leno), more risky, on the edge, bizarre, and comes across as a likable goofy guy.

Clearly only people over 100 years of age are posting on this board. You miss the "good ole' days" so much? Times change and comedy does too. Conan is a breath of fresh air from Leno's jokes aimed at retirement communities, and routines from a bygone era. If it's anyone's fault in all this it's NBC's for putting Jay on for the over 50 crowd to go night-night to. When Jay isn't making racist or homophobic comments he's busy not making anyone laugh and reciting newreels from the 1920's to bring his core audience back to the days when they actually mattered. In short, old people, die already and make way for people in their prime. I guess this is post is more an attack on the elderly than anything else, and while sure I'll be old one day too, but when that day comes you'll all be dead. Enjoy your soup old people.

I never could get into Conan, but I think it's safe to count on NBC to put their advertisers first. It's be nice if the govt put an appropriate emphasis on revenue management...

Easy solution: Leave O'Brien's spot alone; put Leno on at 12:02. Perhaps then Leno can do something a little more edgy than the sophmoric crap censor's restricted him to at 10pm. Good chance to reinvent his humor, I'd say. And none too soon ... his bit has gotten dry and predictable. Oh, and for the record - I'm old enough to remember Carson (agree he was the best), but still think O'Brien's self-depricating humor and playful banter with guests is SOOO much better than Leno ever was.

I like Conan. But I guess I'm not as old as you folk. I don't remember Jack Parr. And Johnny was already older then the hills when I saw him.

It took me sometime to adjust to Conan's humor. And once I did, I found Jay Leno to be old and stale. As personable as Jay Leno may be, I can't see myself watching his shows again.

Conan went to Harvard and wrote for the best years of the Simpsons. The other commentors on this board, who are not bright enough to understand comedy, take the common route of simply putting it down.

People do this as a defense mechanism. Too stupid to understand something? Put it down.

Put your duncecaps back on, boys, you seem perfect for Leno.

Wow, I'm surprised at the anti-Conan sentiment in the comments. I am 30 years old, a woman, an ethnic minority, and a PhD candidate (in case you care about the demographics of Conan's viewers). Although admittedly, Conan has been off his game since assuming the Tonight show mantle (and I have theories why), he remains the only late night comedian on any network who gets an audible laugh out of me. Anti-intellectual--huh? I think he's the ONLY comedian who actually seems as though he could hold an interesting conversation about a variety of subjects. And say what you will, but there is no better live improviser than Conan. That takes intelligence, folks. It's clear a huge portion of his (funniest) jokes and wordplays were thought up on the spot and delivered in reaction to something unscripted that a celebrity guest, audience member, or musician did or said. I think he's one of the most talented people on television. NBC are fools.

Yes, by all means, lets let all programming decisions revolve around what appeals 60+ year old baby boomers. No one under the age of 40 finds Jay Leno entertaining, much less funny. Fire him, actually spend the money to develop quality, entertaining shows for the 10pm timeslot, and watch ratings climb back up.

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