The bottom line: Jay Leno’s prime time show isn’t working out, NBC wants to move him back to late night, but since Conan O’Brien has the contract for The Tonight Show, they want to bump him 30 min later and put a Leno show right before it. Conan has famously refused, arguing that this would kill the Tonight Show franchise, and he makes a pretty compelling case. (btw Conan, apology accepted. We’re cool.)
I admit I haven’t watched Leno since my college days, and Conan has always been too late night for me. And part of what I propose here is probably flawed in some kind of demographic sense, but since none of these shows are truly live anyway and we live in the era of time-shifting and digital viewing, I don’t think it should matter that much.
The obvious solution to my mind – which preserves Leno’s reputation as nice guy to boot, since he sort of comes off as the dilettante villain in this affair – is simply to swap. Give Conan the prime-time slot that Leno had, call it Prime Time with Conan O’Brien. Make it a live-broadcast, if Conan is willing. Put Leno back where he belongs, at the helm of The Tonight Show. Everybody wins – especially Conan’s fans, who are going to grow in number if he’s on at a more accessible time. I think Conan could be the evening version of Oprah if you give him a big enough stage, and what better stage is there than prime time? Meanwhile, Leno had his experiment and it didn’t sit well, so let him go back to what he does best.
What do you think, Jay? Conan? you suits at NBC?