NBC Makes Conan O'Brien an Offer: Midnight, or the Door
Somewhere on the NBC Universal lot, in a bunker constructed from orange Ford Foci and recycled Headlines cards, a Peacock with a denim tourniquet is frantically trying to pin down an exit strategy. The network's late-night realignment negotiations have stalled as they wait for Conan O'Brien to accept a white flag from NBC -- hold onto the Tonight Show at a new midnight time slot or walk. Meanwhile the length of Jay Leno's 11 p.m. show remains undecided. And not surprisingly, both hosts are pissed.
It appears that if Conan stays at NBC, Leno will go on at 11:30 p.m. for a half hour monologue-heavy show. Conan's Tonight Show will follow in an hour-long broadcast at 12 a.m. and lead into Jimmy Fallon's Late Night at 1:00 a.m. Leno is reportedly furious that his show could be 30 minutes and essentially a "lead-in to Conan." If Conan decides to bolt NBC after years of playing No. 2 to Leno's fiddle, the denim deity will get a full hour.
The Associated Press confirmed the negotiations and added that the new line-up could begin immediately following the Winter Olympics coverage, which ends February 28. NBC has issued statements supporting both Leno as "one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today" and Conan as "one of the most respected entertainers on television."
While Conan stayed mum about the behind-the-scenes chaos, Leno took open fire on his employer (video below) with monologue jokes like: "There's a rumor floating around we were canceled -- I heard it coming in this morning on the radio. So far, nobody's said anything to me, but if we did get canceled, it would give us time to maybe do some traveling -- I understand that Fox is beautiful this time of year."
It is still unclear what NBC will do with an open 10 p.m. time slot, but the network says it has "as many as 18 pilots" for new series in the works.