In the biggest recantation since New Coke and Coke Blak, NBC/Comcast are rumored to be reversing their ridiculous removal of Jay Leno from “The Tonight Show” and pushing Conan O’Brien back into the late night boneyard where he belongs.

I predicted this fiasco back on May 20, 2009 in — Leaving Jay Leno — and to this day I do not understand why NBC took Jay away from his winning routine for the loser O’Brien.

Did NBC remove Jay because they “owed” Conan “The Tonight Show?”  Uh, no!  There’s zero loyalty in Hollywood.

NBC obviously thought Conan would bring in a whole new viewership even though Jay was already routinely winning the time slot.  Never mess with success!

It is certainly the right thing to do to give Jay back his place in late night television — but is to too late?  Have NBC ruined both Jay and Conan with their misguided allegiances? 

I think it is Comcast — the new majority owners of NBC — behind this switch back to success because NBC had plenty of time to correct the error before it was made and after it was made… all before Comcast finalized the buy deal in early December. 

In fact, it has taken Comcast less than a month to push this move on NBC to set things right and that’s a good and prescient thing for the rest of us.


  1. I never understood why there was the big switchup to begin with, David. It seemed extremely silly. 🙂

  2. It never made sense, Gordon, except that, I believe, Conan had some sort of clause in his contract that said he would be paid $60 million dollars if he wasn’t hosting the Tonight Show in 2009 — and that deal was made five years ago when Jay’s ratings were not so high. I guess NBC thought it was worth a chance to see what would happen making the switch — because it was going to cost them $60 million dollars no matter what happened — and now, I’m guessing, that $60 million has been spent in the ridiculous experiment and everything can go back to the way it was.

  3. I think you are right about Comcast pushing this to happen because what other explanation is there?

  4. There’s no such thing as a coincidence, Anne. This is a perfect moment for Comcast to flex its muscle in favor of the fans and affiliates and to show NBC who’s boss.

  5. HBR is discussing the entire fiasco from a different angle I guess, what’s your take on it?
    I read about Conan O’Brian in this article first, then in HBS…took some time to relate the two…and finally another article of yours –
    Do you think Conan should have left but he didn’t as he wanted to see the end?

  6. I think it was naive for Conan to ever believe NBC would give him the Tonight Show five years into the future when Jay Leno was not ready to retire and did not want to retire. Play the now instead of the five year bet. Sure, Conan “got” the Tonight Show, but it ended up “getting” him in the end.
    NBC should’ve been smarter and let Jay stay in The Tonight Show. NBC should’ve paid Conan his $60 million kill fee — instead of the $40 million they’re paying him now to go away — and everything would have remained happy and sassy for the next decade or more.
    Conan is finished in late night. If he tries to go up against Jay and David Letterman he will lose and Jay will gain even more because Conan will splinter the Letterman viewership.
    The best thing for Conan to do is to disappear for awhile and to learn the need to know your bosses and their taste and expectation and never EVER retaliate in public against those who have the power to crush you in private.

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