The drama consuming NBC's late night programming has been hard to keep up with ever since rumors spread that Leno was losing his prime time show and returning to late night. The fate, not only of Jay's show, but Conan O'Brien's and Jimmy Fallon's hang in the balance as negotiations continue between the network and its comedy stars.
At first it was unclear who, if anyone, would be getting canceled or moved, when Leno ominously joked about a change-up during his monologue on Jan 7. The next night, O'Brien's monologue expressed his own confusion regarding the changes. "We've got a great show for you tonight. I have no idea what time it will air - but it's going to be a great show," he said. Even CBS' Craig Ferguson mentioned the switch-up in a self-deprecating way. "We'll be the ones who sucked the most. But what did we do? We sucked at the same damn time every night. Every night join me right here and you will get your regular dose of suck," he said.
Both men were suffering in the ratings. Leno's numbers dropped drastically after his first week on air, usually landing in last place amongst the major networks. Conan routinely lost to both Letterman on CBS and "Nightline" on ABC, although he often won the much coveted 28-49 demo. O'Brien also suffered partially because of Leno's poor ratings--with a strong lead in at 10 p.m. he may have fared better.
The rumors all came to a head when NBC officially announced it was indeed returning Leno to the 11:30 p.m. time slot for a half-hour show following the evening news. As for O'Brien, TMZ reported that NBC executives offered him an hour long show at 12:05 and nothing else.
After the announcement, both Leno and O'Brien weighed in on what a mess NBC had created. Leno expressed his frustration with the network, saying "NBC said the show performed exactly as they expected it would and then canceled us. Don't confuse this when we were on at late night and performed better than expected and they canceled us. That was totally different." He also said he will leave NBC's primetime the way he found it: "A complete disaster."
Conan's monologue echoed Leno's sentiments and got tough on NBC, citing their financial problems. He then jokingly cited his other options, including "Star in a Lifetime original movie about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with her network."
Amidst the monologue jokes, rumors kept flying about what O'Brien's decision would be. If he were to go to another network, FOX seemed a likely choice, however they hadn't made any official offers.
Finally on Tuesday Jan. 12, O'Brien made an official statement that he would not be taking the 12:05 time slot following Jay Leno. Arguing "The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't the Tonight Show," O'Brien expressed his affinity for the franchise and respect for Jimmy Fallon's show as reasons. It was also reported O'Brien teared up while explaining his decision to his staff. He cleared up the rumor that he had an offers from other networks, and said he "Honestly ha[s] no idea what happens next."
Meanwhile, other late night hosts and comedians continued to weigh in on the debacle as it unfolded. At NBC's winter Television Critics Association event Jerry Seinfeld took a somewhat ambiguous take, giving props to NBC for trying out Jay Leno in prime time, but then saying "Conan has a chance to destroy everybody [...] I don't think anyone's done anything to Conan." He added, "Jay and Conan work great. They should keep them."
Patton Oswalt took Conan's side completely, citing Leno's inability to do anything new with his late night show, while Conan is constantly pushing the platform in new directions.
CBS' late night king David Letterman put his two cents in Tuesday night, saying the entire shuffle is and will cost NBC "Hundreds and hundreds of millions and millions of dollars" and that between Leno and O'Brien it all boils down to money. He also suggested a replacement for NBC's soon-to-be-vacant 10:00 p.m. time slot: "Law And Order: Leno Victims Unit."
Since Conan's official decline of the 12:05 time slot, he has gotten loads of support from the Internet community. Several Facebook groups and a surge in #teamconan Twitter hashtags have rallied support for the late night host.
Jimmy Kimmel has also come out in support of Conan, going as far as doing his entire show last night dressed as Jay Leno. With prosthetic chin and all, Kimmel mocked Leno's lack of scruples over the switch: "Conan O'Brien today announced that he is leaving NBC. He released a statement today that said, 'I won't participate in the destruction of the Tonight Show.' Fortunately though - I will!," he mocked.
Still keeping his sense of humor despite his possible departure from late night television, O'Brien played "Deal Or No Deal" with Howie Mandel last night to decide what to do next. Lucky for him, he failed to choose "Move to FOX but Seth MacFarlane does my voice."
UPDATE: Popeater is reporting that Leno may leave NBC as well because of the way the network has handled the shuffle. "They have put Jay in a terrible position. It looks like he is the reason that Conan is now without a job. Jay is a great guy and it's not fair that due to NBC's stupidity he looks like the bad guy," a TV insider told Rob Shuter.
UPDATE II: Conan and Jay turned on each other last night in their monologues. Jay was covetous of Conan's time on air, "Seven months! How did he get that deal? We only got four." While Conan went straight for jugular: "I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too."
UPDATE III: Letterman slammed NBC executives again on his show last night, calling them "nitwits" and "knuckle-draggers" among other insults. Watching the debacle from the sidelines, Letterman said that when he was at NBC, the execs were so stupid he had to disinvite one from his anniversary party. "When you're this dumb, there's a price that comes with that," Letterman said. "You can't be walking around stupid and expect to be invited to parties."
UPDATE IV: A Harmelin Media study surfaced Wednesday saying Leno's prime-time show is to blame for poor late-night local news ratings. "Local NBC stations saw their late news audience drop by an average of 25 percent in November compared with the previous year," the study said. Leno is being blamed for providing "a lousy 'lead-in,' which is television terminology for people keeping their TV set on one station because they were watching something there previously."
UPDATE V: NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has threatened to keep Conan O'Brien off the air for 3.5 years if he refuses to host the "Tonight Show" in the 12:05 time slot, Nikki Finke reports. According to insiders, Zucker has taken "a super tough threatening position" with O'Brien's representatives. Finke says "Zucker 'is threatening to ice Conan', according to his reps," and says it is in Zucker's interest to put Leno back on the "Tonight Show" in the 11:35 time slot and get rid of Conan altogether.
UPDATE VI: TMZ reported Thursday "Jay Leno has made a new deal with NBC, which gives him "The Tonight Show" from 11:35 - 12:35," according to sources. This would restore Leno as host of his old show, and Conan would be let go from the network. According to the Hollywood Reporter's Nellie Andreeva, NBC sources have denied the existence of the deal.
UPDATE VII: Thursday night, after TMZ reports that Leno would be returning to host "The Tonight Show" Jimmy Kimmel came on Leno's show via satellite and let him have it. During Leno's "10 at 10" feature, he asked Kimmel "What's the best prank you ever pulled?" Kimmel responded, "I told a guy that 'five years from now, I'm going to give you my show.' And then when the five years came, I gave it to him. And then I took it back almost instantly. I think he works at Fox or something now." He also said Leno "had $800 million for God's sake" and made other jokes at his expense.
A few hours later, Conan put "The Tonight Show" up for sale on Craigslist. The ad, which read "4 SALE: BARELY-USED LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW - MAKE ME AN OFFER," promised a late-night show that would last "up to seven months." Conan also did a segment where he pondered a new career for himself and Andy: Pornography. The two considered titles such as "In The Rear 3000" and "Coo-Coo For CoCo's Puffs" in lieu of their late-night talk show.
UPDATE VIII: The Daily Beast has reported Conan O'Brien will leave NBC with a large payout and no noncompete clause, meaning he is free to appear elsewhere on TV before his contract with NBC expires. This coincides with TMZ's report Thursday that Leno would be returning to host The Tonight Show at the normal time, and Conan would be getting the boot. This also follows reports that NBC honcho Jeff Zucker had threatened Conan with a noncompete clause that would prevent him from working on TV for 3.5 years. An official announcement by NBC has not been made at this time, nor have the details of the payout amount been released.
UPDATE IX: It appears Jeff Zucker isn't the only NBC exec trashing Conan. In an interview with The New York Times, NBC Executive Dick Ebersol called Conan's jokes about Leno "chicken-hearted and gutless." He also said, "what this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan." The blame-game continued a few days later, when Leno told his side of hte story, claiming "When NBC first suggested prime time to him, Leno said: "well that'll never work." Leno blamed Conan's low ratings for his getting taken off the air and denied rumors that he wanted to take the "Tonight Show" away from him. ""Through all of this, Conan O'Brien has been a gentleman. He's a good guy, I have no animosity toward him. This is all business," he said. Later, Leno's staff reaffirmed his sentiments, saying the mess is not his fault. "The network asked him to make a compromise. He's being a good soldier, and he's being trashed," said producer Jack Coen, who has worked with Leno for 14 years. Leno's staff primarily blames NBC for making bad decisions, not Leno for wanting to be in the spotlight.
UPDATE X: The Wall Street Journal reports Conan to walk away with $40 Million for leaving his dream job as host of the "Tonight Show." Conan is "close to signing" the agreement as early as Tuesday. On "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, Seth Myers likened the Conan/Leno drama to a love-triangle marriage that was doomed to fail. Then, on Monday night, Conan called NBC "incompetent morons" to prove he is allowed to say bad things about the network while still on the air. He also announced that he has listed himself on Craigslist in the Casual Encounters section.
UPDATE XI: After many negotiations about Conan O'Brien's exit strategy from the "Tonigh Show" including severences for this staff and crew and a personal severance of over $40 million, it appears the drama is finally over. Conan will air his last episode of the "Tonight Show" Friday, January 22nd. "Tom Hanks was scheduled for Friday, as was Will Ferrell - the first guest O'Brien welcomed when he started last June as 'Tonight' host," The AP reports. Conan is not going out quietly, having this week put on a one-minute sketch that cost NBC $1.5 million. Saying Tuesday night that he's "just three days away from the biggest drinking binge in history," it's clearly sinking in for the late-night host that he will no longer have a show. However, in accordance with his exit deal from NBC, he could be working on another network as early as this fall.
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