It's a sad day for comedy, for a couple of reasons.
Conan O'Brien's last Tonight Show could indeed come as soon as next Friday as the redheaded funnyman is said to be nearing a deal with NBC that will allow him to get the hell out of there while Jay Leno returns to weeknights at 11:35 p.m.
The Los Angeles Times reports that an announcement could come as soon as tomorrow that O'Brien and NBC are parting ways after their longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship turned into an increasingly acrimonious game of finger-pointing.
O'Brien's departure will be sad because, one, what ultimately started out as a well-intentioned scheme—keep viewers laughing for three hours (and save a little money) by putting Jay, Conan and Jimmy Fallon on every night—turned into a ratings debacle. And because the quality of Conan and Jay's jokes over the last week has benefited from all that seething animosity underneath the service.
Case in point...
"Sunday night on Fox is the premiere of a new show called Human Target," Jay said tonight. "I thought it was about me. I'm getting beat up in the press. You know it's bad when Tiger Woods calls to offer you PR advice."
"Even Dave Letterman's taking shots at me," he continued. "Which surprised me—usually he's just taking shots at the interns."
A little late on the draw, but yowza! We love it when these guys admit that the other exists (as Dave has been doing all week).
Conan followed, for now, with more shots at NBC.
"Welcome to tonight's show," he began. "By the time you see this, I'll be halfway to Rio in a stolen NBC traffic copter.
"In the press this week, NBC has been calling me every name in the book. In fact, they think I'm such an idiot they now want me to run the network. According to the Nielsen Company our ratings are way, way up this week. And that's nothing—wait till you see what we have planned for February."
(Originally published Jan. 15, 2010, at 8:30 p.m. PT)