EXCLUSIVE: Does Max Weinberg Want to Be Jay Leno's New Bandleader?
After the Late Night Wars toppled Conan O'Brien from The Tonight Show and reinstalled Jay Leno in his place, it seemed as though the battle lines had been drawn: on one side, there was Team Coco, on the other, Team Leno, and never the twain should meet. That's what makes the news we're about to reveal all the more surprising.
Sources tell Movieline that Conan O'Brien's longtime bandleader Max Weinberg recently made overtures to Leno about joining the new Tonight Show as Leno's bandleader. He'd be replacing Kevin Eubanks, who announced in February that he had plans to leave the show.
It's a post that Weinberg has long coveted, though he only held it briefly during O'Brien's truncated tenure. "I think one of the biggest thrills in my life was seeing my name in the same sentence as Doc Severinsen, who, in my view, is the gold standard for Tonight Show bandleaders," Weinberg told Inside Jersey last August after assuming the gig. "There's never been anyone who did it quite near the class and the brilliance of Doc Severinsen in the original Tonight Show Band. I used to think when I was a kid what a great job that must be -- you know, same place, every time, everyday. Lo and behold, here I am 40 years later, doing it. That sounds deep, deep, deep, deep, deeply satisfying to me."
In some ways, the news comes as a shock: even entering into discussions with Leno would mark Weinberg as a high-profile defector from the Conan camp, and could spark another round of backlash against Leno just as he's settling into the Tonight Show.
Still, we hear that despite his long association with O'Brien, Weinberg was less than beloved by staffers. When O'Brien's show was still located in New York, Weinberg would send interns to do gardening work at his house on the New Jersey shore, and would involve staffers in his pay disputes with the network -- at one point, even enlisting an intern to tabulate every minute of screen time Weinberg had racked up over two years in an argument for a salary raise. Though several members of Weinberg's band will be joining O'Brien during his live summer tour, Weinberg himself is conspicuously absent from the list.
When asked to address the matter, an NBC spokeswoman said only, "We are not commenting." Reps for Leno and Weinberg have yet to get back to us.