NBC Pulling a Leno-O'Brien Switcheroo?

Network reportedly in talks to shake up schedule, moving old Tonight overlord back at expense of current host

By Gina Serpe Jan 08, 2010 12:57 AMTags
The Tonight Show, Jay Leno, Conan O'BrienNBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater

UPDATE: NBC has just released a statement shooting down speculation that O'Brien would be forced off the network, but not addressing his fate as Tonight Show host: "We have the best comedy team in the business. 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.

Could Jay be walking back to his old digs?

From the not-really-shocking department comes word that NBC execs have met with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien to discuss a major programming shuffle that could see Leno back as the host of The Tonight Show and O'Brien potentially unemployed.

The news was first reported by TMZ and then echoed by The New York Times, and followed an item earlier in the day in the blog FTLive.com claiming that NBC had pulled the plug on Leno's ill-rated prime-time experiment.

Perhaps tellingly, NBC has released a statement denying the Jay Leno Show had been canceled, but the network wouldn't immediately comment on whether Leno was going to replace O'Brien.

"Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today," the network said. "As we have said all along, Jay's show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network. It has, however, presented some issues for our affiliates.

"Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve the performance."

Apparently even if that improvement comes at the expense of O'Brien, who has leaked viewers in his seven shaky months in the most vaunted chair in late night, leaving Tonight well behind CBS' Late Show with David Letterman.

No announcement is expected immediately, but it could be imminent, with NBC reportedly planning to make the move timed to the Winter Olympics.

(Originally published Jan. 7, 2010, at 3:52 p.m. PT)


One man not worried about his career? Ryan Seascrest, of course. The guy has a million jobs.