In which a column that is slated to appear in Newsday tomorrow magically runs on TVZone right now...
A day before a scheduled meeting with the press in Pasadena, and a week before a very important one with stations, here's where NBC finds itself:
The network is on the verge of canceling a much-touted failure, "The Jay Leno Show," whose star will be moved back to 11:30, except the guy who is there now is threatening to walk, which could leave the network without a major star - not to mention the fact that five hours of primetime real estate must be filled with brand new shows after the Olympics end in February.
That about sum it up?
To call NBC's comedy of errors, miscues, and miscalculations a mess does injustice to the word. Messes can be cleaned up. This disaster - much better word - might not be. Not easily, anyway.
Yesterday, NBC was expected to make an official announcement about Jay's return to 11:35, admitting that ratings for the 10 p.m. show have been a disappointment and that the network’s affiliates have lost viewers to their 11 p.m. news broadcasts as a result. But the day grew long and the network hastily retreated behind a wall of silence. As the crickets chirped, speculation began. Conan O'Brien was resisting NBC's plan to push him back to midnight (Leno's show would air at 11:35, Conan's from 12 to 1) and to anyone who asked, Fox replied (privately): Sure, Conan O'Brien would be a great fit over here. There's a contract that binds Conan to NBC for years to come, so this could be gamesmanship or good old-fashioned troublemaking.
In any case, the mess got messier.
How this proceeds from here could go as follows. Conan O'Brien accepts the midnight offer, and crawls back under the rock he spent sixteen years trying to get away from - as the figurative late night second banana to Jay. It's not the worst option in the world, and he could then wait until either Jay's 11:35 show stumbles - a distinct possibility given the damage NBC has wrought on Leno - or until Jay gets hits by a bus.
Or, he refuses the midnight offer. NBC is then forced to go to Plan B - Leno as host of "The Tonight Show," and Jimmy Fallon at 12:35 - and Conan is cast out into the cold cruel world of Hollywood. Fox wouldn't be such a sweet deal because Fox stations may not be enthusiastic about dumping currently profitable 11 p.m. programs. ABC? Unlikely. CBS? You know the story there.
So, we all await a final answer. The clock ticks. The cricket chirping gets louder. Meanwhile, the comedy of errors, miscues and miscalculations at NBC continues to defy all logic.