It's true, gang.
Jay is heading back to 11:30.
But NBC is pussyfooting around - because it was caught so flatfooted today - and has issued only mealy-mouthed statements that say nothing.
For those interested...first up is my wrap for the paper tomorrow;
That's followed by my initial report, filed late afternoon.
But take it to the bank. Jay goes back to 11:30. The Times, meanwhile, is reporting Conan will do an hour-long show at midnight.
Strange. But true.
Meanwhile, if you really feel like reading a lot of this Leno stuff tonight...
Go to this link for the post that set the ball rolling on some of this...with one or two particulars just a little teeny bit wrong, but...
So, Jay, back to 11:30? And Conan to midnight?
NBC - on the eve of a meeting with the press and affiliates - is expected to answer “yes” by this morning.
A story on TMZ yesterday reported that "The Jay Leno Show" would be shelved Feb. 1, just before the Winter Olympics, and that Leno would return to half-hour version of "Tonight." Conan O’Brien would likely host an hour show at midnight. The network did not deny the story, but instead released a statement last night saying, “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.”
To translate, that means Leno’s return to “Tonight” is going to happen, and most likely after the February Winter Olympics.
A major change was, in fact, expected.: The 10 p.m. show that was once cast as the future of NBC's primetime has simply not worked. NBC affiliates - which have seen their 11 p.m. news broadcasts lose viewers because the so-called "lead-in" at 10 is so anemic - have griped bitterly. Worse, viewers have been faithless. "The Jay Leno Show" launched in September with 18 million of them the first night and the number dwindled relentlessly since, to below four million currently. Also, NBC recently ordered nearly a dozen new dramas. Some of those would logically be expected to air weeknights at 10 p.m. if they get picked up. Some, doubtless, will.
NBC was caught badly flat-footed yesterday. First, it denied a morning web report that claimed Leno's show was to be cancelled. While affirming that affiliates were getting hammered (or, per the press statement, the Leno show "presented some issues"), it said “Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. As we have said al along, Jay’s show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network." Then, the TMZ story broke. .
In an interview with Broadcasting & Cable magazine last fall - the only one Leno had done with the press in months and which was considered an olive branch to NBC stations at the time - he was asked
whether he'd just quit if the ratings kept sailing south: “I know this sounds really weird, but that's how you win. I look at what makes other competitors weak: alcohol, drugs, sex, instability emotionally. And I go, “'OK, let me make myself strong by being the long-distance guy.'”
But he was also asked if he'd return to "Tonight" if he got the call: "If it were offered to me, would I take it? If that's what they wanted to do, sure. That would be fine if they wanted to."
And now, my post from this afternoon...more background...
The wheels of nuttiness continue to turn at NBC: TMZ is reporting that "The Jay Leno Show" will go on hiatus Feb. 1...right about now (4:37 ET) , TMZ's Harvey Levin is reconfirming in a live webchat the story that broke on the site a little while ago.
Because Levin is not in the habit of getting major news like this wrong, I tend to believe this is accurate. In fact, I'm reasonably certain it is.
The specifics: That Leno goes back to 11:30, and that Conan...well, may stay on in a truncated half-hour version at (I suppose) midnight. That's unclear, TMZ admits.
Interesting (ly), the Leno-back-to-"Tonight" was a long-ago rumor, and when Jay was asked during an interview with Broadcasting whether he'd go back if the opportunity presented itself, he said - yeah, sure, why not.
Or his exact quote: "If it were offered to me, would I take it? If that's what they wanted to do, sure. That would be fine if they wanted to."
Those words struck fear, obviously, into the heart of good 'ol Conan - like Jay, a trooper and didn't say anything about it at the time. But clearly the possibility was always there.
You know all the problems at "The Jay Leno Show" - poor numbers, and furious affiliates, who have seen their late local news turn into the equivalents of cable access shows, numberswise. Spec has been something will happen this week, and I as posted here on Tuesday, one hunch - certainly mine - was that NBC would drop two weeknight editions of "Leno" and then gradually kill the thing outright.
Now, let's talk Conan. TMZ suggests that Jay would go from 11:30 to midnight, and Co from mid to 12:35; that makes a bit o' sense too because then NBC wouldn't technically have abrograted its agreement with the new "Tonight" host, and - voila! - no $40 mill payout.
But... would something like this work? I dunno.
Second, do you really want to lose Conan? I think he's done a brilliant job at "Tonight," and the numbers haven't been all that bad - not great, but not bad, and I think he even beat "Letterman" in 14-49, 18-34 during December, or parts of the 4th quarter.
And much as I love dear old Jay, how much longer can he do this? Pushing 60, he is not exactly a picture of blooming youth. So...
Bringing him, finally, back to "Tonight" would force NBC to ask this rather dramatic question: Did its misguided decision to plop Jay at 10 damage not just "Tonight" but ALSO Jay? No one knows exactly the answer to that, I assure you, but the 10 p.m. debacle has certainly hurt Jay; he was king of late night for seventeen years. Then, the butt of jokes and - worse - complete apathy for the last six months.
One last point, and then I'll shut up: What about Dave? He was to have signed an extension, and did not. He's had one of the greatest runs of his entire career the last six months, numbers-wise, and if Jay goes back - assuming Jay isn't chopped liver by now - does that mean "Late Show" heads south again?
Questions. No answers.
I anxiously await the mealy-mouthed statement from NBC about all this. It will not, I suspect, be a denial.