Earlier on Thursday (Jan. 7), NBC denied that Jay Leno was losing his job, but might the comic be moving back to late-night?
According to TMZ.com — always right about celebrity deaths, occasionally wrong about other things — NBC may be ready to yank “The Jay Leno Show” from its five-days-a-week berth at 10 p.m., moving the host back to his former home at 11:30 p.m.
The website reports that “The Jay Leno Show” will go on hiatus on Feb. 1 and that Jay Leno will return after the Olympics in the late-night home he occupied for years as the host of “The Tonight Show.”
TMZ offers no hints as to whether the move would just place “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:30, whether it would put Leno back as host of “The Tonight Show” or what the move would mean for current “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien.
Earlier in the day, in response to media reports that “The Jay Leno Show” was being cancelled, NBC put out this statement: “Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. 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.”
Note that the statement says nothing to preclude “The Jay Leno Show” and its fancy new digs packing up and moving to 11:30. In fact, NBC gave the exact same statement to TMZ hours later.
Later in the day, NBC issued a second statement regarding O’Brien saying, “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.”
Again, note the absence of specifics regarding how or where NBC plans on keeping Conan O’Brien.
Adding some clarification to the mess was The New York Times‘ Bill Carter, who reported that NBC executives have met with both Leno and O’Brien on Thursday. NBC sources told Carter that no formal decision was being made on Thursday, but didn’t deny the speculation.
Carter later updated his story with the possibility that NBC may move “The Jay Leno Show” to 11:30 for a half-hour show, followed by an hour-long “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” starting at 12:05, moving Jimmy Fallon to 1:05. Again, though, this speculation was unconfirmed by the network.
If the TMZ report is true — and it is lacking in named or specifically located sources — it ends an ugly fall which saw “The Jay Leno Show” debut in early September to excellent ratings and fall off dramatically when the regular season began. Meanwhile, in the 11:30 hour that Leno never wanted to leave in the first place, O’Brien has squandered a substantial lead against David Letterman’s CBS show, falling roughly 2 million viewers-per-night behind.
What will NBC do with the 10 p.m. primetime hour? That may be the biggest question of all. The network is conspicuously lacking in midseason hour-long dramas, with “Chuck” and “Parenthood” already scheduled for premieres earlier in the evening.
More clarification on this story will presumably be forthcoming, since NBC brass will face the Television Critics Association on Sunday in what is sure to be an entertaining part of the first weekend of the semi-annual press tour.
Stay tuned to HitFix for further information as it becomes available…