Savvy NBC chief executive Jeff Zucher is gambling that he can 'have his cake and eat it too'. Fearing that The Tonight Show host Jay Leno would sign on with ABC, Fox or Sony television studios after abdicating to Conan O'Brien in May 2009, they created a new time slot for their cash cow.
Leno, who likely never intended to retire, will continue to broadcast from his long time Burbank studio location and will appear five night a week at 10:00 p.m. ET against CSI Miami, CSI: New York and Law & Order SVU, signing on for 46 shows per year. He will do much of what he does now and will keep his monologue, do the headlines and his Jay Walking segment.
Conan O'Brien, who has been patiently waiting in the wings, will take over The Tonight Show in a different studio on the NBC Universal lot in May. Will NBC's little move essentially cut off his legs before he gets started? He'll have a few months to establish himself before Leno flies out of the chute in the fall.
Work horse Leno, who doesn't like much idle time, will have a three month hiatus to develop his new gig or cool his heels before picking up right where he left off.
The official NBC announcement is expected today.