The Jay Leno chase is on.
Four years ago, NBC made the comedian the lame-duck host of "The Tonight Show," announcing with fanfare that he would be succeeded by Conan O'Brien in 2009.
Today, Mr. Leno is still the champion of late-night ratings, with no apparent desire to do anything else but continue on top. "What I do," he has said on several occasions to colleagues, "is tell jokes at 11:30 at night."
And so, nearly two years before he can officially be courted, suitors including two networks, ABC and Fox, and at least one television studio, Sony Pictures Television, are beginning to circle, doing everything they legally can to make sure Mr. Leno knows that they will make it possible for him to continue doing just that.
Senior executives at ABC and Fox said that their networks had discreetly gotten the message to Mr. Leno that they were waiting eagerly for the time when they would be able to make official overtures. NBC Universal, meanwhile, has repeatedly expressed its intention to retain Mr. Leno with a still-undisclosed plan for a new program.