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Leno: NBC = Never Believe Your Contract

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  January 8, 2010 05:28 AM

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fists.jpgLooks like NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m. is indeed a goner, after Leno and Conan O'Brien spent the day in talks with NBC yesterday. No final decision has been announced yet.

Leno himself made a few swipe-filled references to the possible changes last night on his show (see this video from the show, which is NBC.com's "clip of the day"!). In his monologue, he said that NBC stood for "Never Believe your Contract." He mentioned other networks, saying, "If we did get canceled, it will give us time to do some traveling. I understand that Fox is beautiful this time of year." He also wished Katie Couric a happy birthday, noting that she'd moved from NBC to CBS: "I gotta give her a call, see how that's working out." Leno also joked that, after all, the rumors of his change might not be true: "See, it's always been my experience NBC only cancels you when you're in first place. So we're fine."

Leno is in talks to return to the 11:35 p.m. slot on NBC with a half-hour show, which would begin sometime after the Winter Olympics. His numbers at 10 p.m. were consistently low, which led to lowered ratings -- and lowered ad revenues -- for the local affiliates for their 11 p.m. newcasts. On average, Leno's ratings were 29 percent down from last season, when NBC was running scripted dramas such as "Law & Order."

If Leno does move to 11:35 p.m., then NBC will need to deal with The Conan O'Brien Question. Will O'Brien, now host of "The Tonight Show" at 11:35, move to 12:05? Will his show still be called "The Tonight Show" or will that title revert back to Leno? Will O'Brien -- whose contract negotiations six years ago first led to the Leno succession scheme -- leave the network entirely? "We remain committed to keeping Conan O'Brien on NBC," the network said in a statement last night. "He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years, and is one of the most respected entertainers on television."

Prepare for more scrambling. Any ideas about what should happen? 

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