UPDATE: NBC today announced the stop and start dates for hosting duties on The Tonight Show in 2009: Jay Leno ends May 29th, and Conan O’Brien starts on June 1st. Meanwhile, Jay pulled a Jimmy at the TCA today. Like Kimmel did at ABC’s presentation last week, Leno showed up in costume – bald cap, goatee to hide that big chin, black glasses — and sneaked into the back of the room. (Photo, right, released by NBC.) Then he began asking questions of the NBC bosses like whether Leno would be paid for the whole year even if he’s only working for six months of it.. (The answer was yes.) The TCA press at first didn’t recognize him, then laughed and applauded. (They must be easily amused.) Transcript for Leno’s exchange.

An NBC source told me that the bit was Leno’s idea because Jay ”felt bad” about making that announcement he was “done” with NBC and claims he was “misunderstood”. It was a weird venue for Jay Leno to make that announcement: in an unreadable USA Today article about his massive car collection. Needless to say, the paper didn’t even know it had a scoop and buried the news in the middle of its story. Here’s what Leno stated: ” ‘I am definitely done next year — with NBC,’ he says, sitting in a huge recliner in his poster-strewn shop office. Would he go to another network? Leno just smiles. ‘I’m not a beach guy, and the last time I was in my pool was to fix a light. Don’t worry, I’ll find a job somewhere.’ ”

I’ve been saying for some time that, judging from Leno’s animus towards Jeff Zucker who brutally threw him under a bus for Conan O’Brien in 2009 even though Jay is still No. 1 in late night, there was no way Leno would stick with NBC. So, I say it’s clear that Jay is ABC-bound and on the air there in 2010. I also hear from sources that Kimmel is “OK” with having his time slot moved.

Meanwhile, ABC just extended its option with current late night host Jimmy Kimmel to keep him at the network through at least 2010. At the Television Critics Association briefing last Wednesday, ABC Entertainment topper Steve McPherson stated “there’s absolutely room for both” Kimmel and Leno, and pledged that Jimmy would be fully consulted every step of the Jay negotiation — something Zucker failed to do with Leno. ”I can’t believe they’re going to let this guy go at the top of his game,” McPherson said. “If that happens, I guess we’ll look at it at the time, and Jimmy will be involved in those discussions, and that will be that.” Meanwhile, Kimmel livened up McPherson’s TCA session during which Jimmy played reporter asking the bigwig from the audience, “There are rumors that ABC is actively courting Jay Leno for 11:30. Is there any truth to the rumors? If you were even to talk to Jay Leno, wouldn’t that be like contract tampering? Wouldn’t that be illegal? Couldn’t you go to jail for that? Are you at all afraid that if you do replace Jimmy Kimmel, he might do something crazy to you or your car?” I understand this punking was McPherson’s idea. But I still think McPherson’s 2007 bit of TCA schtick tearing NBC’s Ben Silverman a new asshole was way more entertaining…

So much for the behind-the-scenes late night drama everyone expected. There won’t be a need for a Late Shift sequel. (Sorry, Bill Carter…) Meanwhile, producer Lorne Michael told the TCA he’ll have Jimmy Fallon do a 5- or 10-minute Web show starting in the fall at 12:30 AM to work out the kinks because Conan was so hopeless when started hosting. Probably in the spring, Fallon will get TV time on the air following Leno as O’Brien takes a breather, then prepares to take over The Tonight Show. Meanwhile, how alarming for NBC that Late Late Show‘s Craig Ferguson has caught up with Conan ratings-wise.

And let’s not forget that The Late Show with David Letterman is still the king of quality. The show picked up 5 Emmy nominations this time around, while The Tonight Show was blanked. Oh, but Leno himself received an accolade — a “Special Class Program – Short-Format Nonfiction Programs” Emmy nod for Jay Leno’s Garage at Jaylenosgarage.com. How embarrassing.

  1. Jay Leno Hints That ABC Is In His Future
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