Official: Leno Returns To 'Tonight,' Conan Can Return To TV

Jay Leno

The worst-kept secret in TV has been confirmed: NBC officially announced that Jay Leno would be returning to host "The Tonight Show" starting March 1.

In that press release, NBC didn't mention Conan O'Brien, who took over the hosting job of the show in June. He lasted seven months, and according to reports, will receive $33 million in severance, with another $12 million going to his staff of 200. Leno hosted the show for 17 years.

NBC executives and NBC affiliates witnessed the show's key 18-49 ratings sink almost 50% or more when O'Brien took over, taking the show to second place against rival CBS' resurgent "Late Show with David Letterman."

In a separate statement concerning O'Brien, NBC said in an agreement signed Thursday, that it and O'Brien "will settle their contractual obligations and the network will release O'Brien from his contract, freeing him to pursue other opportunities after September 1, 2010." Rival networks, including Fox, have been suggested as possible new homes for him.



O'Brien did expand the number of younger viewers. But media advertising executives say there is much more money to be made from targeting 18-49 viewers.

Compounding the problem was installing "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m., which also suffered in ratings, but was profitable for the network -- versus other prime-time programming.

During this period, NBC affiliates suffered, losing big late-night revenue -- especially from their local newscasts. In early January, Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, told critics that around one-third of NBC affiliates were considering pre-empting "Leno" at 10 p.m.

That prompted Gaspin's plan: wedge a half-hour "Jay Leno show" at 11:35 p.m, with "The Tonight Show" moved to 12:05 p.m., and return NBC at 10 p.m. to scripted and unscripted programming. But O'Brien rejected the revamped "Tonight Show" plan, then went on to rail against NBC executives with comedy for about two weeks, where his ratings shot up 50%.

Letterman and Leno also spewed comedy at the expense of NBC -- and each other.

In the press announcement, NBC says "Late Show with Jimmy Fallon" would continue running at 12:35 p.m.

1 comment about "Official: Leno Returns To 'Tonight,' Conan Can Return To TV".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 22, 2010 at 9:34 a.m.

    Jack Paar redux.

    Without anticipating that Hollywood studies would force their big stars to boycott Leno in primetime (as payback for lost revenue from 10PM dramas), I was dead-wrong when I predicted Jay would be a good idea for NBC prime. At least NBC anticipated that COnan may not work at 11:35 and kept Jay around, to send back onto the field. He has an admirable track record against Letterman, so maybe he can be Brett Favre.

    Throwing caution to the wind, however, I will predict eventual failure for Conan on the Fox network. When it comes to fame and fortune, O'Brien may have to settle for half. Jack Paar did all right financially after walking away from NBC, but his legacy was never the same.

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