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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)

Why in the devil do they want to return Leno to the late show. Can't stand the egotistical scum. Prefer Conan or Letterman. He wanted to get off the progran to take his wife to dinner, so let him go. Who needs him???????? Not me that is for sure. Wouldn't watch him if you paid me.

Thanks Nina

Conan rules, Leno drools!

F all who hate on Conan and praise leno - Conan is a classy, funny man-child, whereas leno is a plagiarizing hack who used to be funny, but betrayed the human comedians to become a dull robot - the reason why his tonight show stint got so many viewers is the same reason why george w. bush was elected twice: a lot of people are idiots -

They could easily cut Conan's time slot to half an hour by making him stop pantomiming all of his jokes after each telling during his stand up routine. More precious minutes could be saved by giving Conan a buzz cut so he'd not be able to waste time playing with his ridiculous pompador.
Another suggestion would be to dump Conan and fill in behind a Jay Leno hour with half hour reruns of Andy Richter's old sit com.

LENO IS BORING. Time to give it up, old man!

Enough already!!! Jay Leno waxed Letterman for YEARS in the 11:35 pm timeslot!!! Conan O'Brien is NOW getting Waxed by Letterman!! It doesn't take a Genius to figure out the bottomline on this thing!! People prefer to watch Leno!! Not Conan!!! And, Letterman's audience increased from former Leno fans!! Overall viewers have declined, as many, myself include, just Quit watching altogether!! Cannot wait for Jay to return, for a 1 Hour Show!! I will watch Leno where ever he lands!!! I will never watch Conan o'Brien!! It is too painful!!!!

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