Is NBC Choosing Leno Over Coco?

[UPDATE – USA Today disproves TMZ article. Still doesn’t mean it won’t happen.]

If you’re at all a fan of late night television or have seen any entertainment news of any kind, you’ve probably heard the controversy with NBC’s weekly late night programming. If not, here’s the gist of the Leno vs. Coco controversy.

Jay Leno’s The Jay Leno Show has predictably been bombing in its prime time slot. Local NBC affiliates are complaining that the poor lead in is killing the late night news’ ratings. In a domino effect, low news ratings leads to low The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian ratings, which then causes Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to drop too. NBC, which once ruled late night weeknights, was falling hard.

Suddenly, someone has a “brilliant” idea. Let’s move Leno to 11:35 half-hour show, The Tonight Show‘s traditional start time right after the news. Thus Conan’s The Tonight Show would start at 12:05 a.m and Jimmy Fallon at 1:05.

Understandably, Conan wouldn’t have this. Conan issued a statement spelling out how he would not participate in moving The Tonight Show from the time it has stood at for decades and shafting  Jimmy Fallon into even an even later hour.

Basically, if they move The Tonight Show, Conan’s leaving.

While there’s still DVRs and Hulu to watch The Tonight Show, Conan argues that moving the show away from the local news that leads into it will lose many traditional viewers and that having the show start after midnight will no longer make it “Tonight.”

Doing this change may also break Conan’s contract with NBC, thus leading to a substantial payout, although NBC argues that the contract does not specify the time of The Tonight Show. Either way, Conan seems pretty set on leaving if The Tonight Show is moved.

TMZ’s sources today say Leno and NBC have made a deal for Leno to either return to The Tonight Show or a similar show at the same time.  NBC denied this just as soon as it hit. If it’s true though, looks like it’s sadly time for Coco to go.

Conan on Leno's Tonight Show before taking it over

Where did all of this start?

The origins of this issue goes back all the way to 1992, when Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show. NBC put comic and occasional guest host Jay Leno in his place instead of David Letterman, who followed Carson’s show on Late Night. Letterman then moved to CBS to start The Late Show, creating a rival for The Tonight Show.

So 2004 rolled around. Leno, having just extended his contract to 2009, came out onto The Tonight Show one day to announce he (and NBC) is giving the show to Conan O’Brian in 2009. Conan, at that time, was the host of Late Night, taking over after Letterman left for CBS in 1993. Conan, having grown up with Johnny Carson and loving The Tonight Show, took the opportunity. NBC at the moment dodged a potential competitor that the last succession created with Letterman.

Fast forward to 2009. Jay left The Tonight Show. Conan moved his cast, crew and their families from New York (where Late Night is filmed) to LA to host The Tonight Show. Late Night was taken over by former SNL member Jimmy Fallon. All was good, until NBC scrapped all weekly 10 p.m. prime time programming for The Jay Leno Show, essentially an earlier version of the same show Leno did when he hosted The Tonight Show.

The Effect on Late Night

Currently, everyone’s still hosting their shows until the Winter Olympics in February, at which point The Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. will be canceled and The Tonight Show will go on hiatus. After wards, Conan looks like he’s leaving NBC.

If so, he may or may not have a contractual term blocking him from moving to a competing network for a short period of time. Still, rumors of Fox trying to steal him away have flooded the web (maybe he’ll go back to writing The Simpsons).

This entire mess has been ridiculed all across the late night patheon. Pot shots at Leno and NBC have littered the networks. Jimmy Kimmel of  Jimmy Kimmel Live! dressed up as Leno one night as a joke of Leno taking his time slot as well.

Leno's on a conquest of all of late night!

However, there is no better place to find NBC bashing than on NBC’s own The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian. Conan’s making several jokes a night at NBC and Leno’s sake, such as “NBC: no longer just screwing prime time” and “You too can accomplish your dreams, unless Jay Leno wants to too.”

Hey, if you’re pissed and are going to leave in a couple of weeks, why not just go ahead and trash talk your bosses on national television each night.

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