NBC announced that Jay Leno’s last night as host of The Tonight Show will be May 29, 2009, and Conan O’Brien will step into the big chair the following Monday, June 1.
And despite the conventional wisdom that Jay Leno will leave the network and possibly take his late-night career to ABC or elsewhere, NBC co-chief Marc Graboff said the company is still pursuing some way to keep Leno in the fold.
“We’re not going to concede that at this point,” Graboff said of Leno leaving.
He added that when Leno was quoted as saying he was “done with NBC” by USA Today, “I think he will tell you he was taken out of context a little bit.”
Graboff said O’Brien’s last show in his current 12:35 a.m. role will be sometime in the first quarter of next year, but the exact date has not been set.
But O'Brien will not be completely out of sight during the six-month transition between his Late Night sign-off and his presumptive Tonight Show debut when O'Brien and his staff make the transition from New York to Los Angeles. NBC will spend considerably to promote him.
"We may do something like Conan criss-crossing America," NBC entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman said. "So there will be other ways that Conan will be very present and in the consciousness of the public."
When asked if it might be counterproductive to run reruns of the Jay Leno-hosted Tonight Show between May and September, Silverman said the network was looking at a number of options, including running reruns of O'Brien's Late Night at 11:30 p.m.
"We're looking at everything and evaluating everything," he added.
And while the Tonight Show succession plan was completed before he got to NBC Universal, Silverman said the network has lived through what looked like questionable decisions in the past.
"They lived through Johnny [Carson] stepping down and letting [David] Letterman go," he added. "They lived through [losing] Katie Couric. Every time everyone thought they were making the wrong choice -- I would just say analyze it all in full circle. We've ridden these waters before."
Parodying Jimmy Kimmel's appearance at the ABC executive session here last week, NBC convinced Leno to show up and pepper his own executives with late-night questions. He was in disguise with his famous mane of hair covered with a bald prosthetic and a press-on handlebar mustache, asking, "When is Leno's final show? Will he be paid for the rest of the year? What about Brett Favre's retirement/unretirement? What if Jay changes his mind?"
"Everyone's entitled to change their mind, but I imagine that puts management in an impossible situation," Silverman said with a smile.
Graboff indentified March or April as the probable starting time for Jimmy Fallon’s late-night replacement for O’Brien. Fallon will launch his new project online with nightly segments prior to starting on the network.
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