There has been a lot of buzz around the late-night lineup on NBC. In case you've been under a rock, Jay Leno's prime time show hasn't done well in the ratings (did they REALLY think it would? A prime time variety show on five nights a week?), although they said it performed as well as expected. At the same time, viewership of the Tonight Show has also fallen off. I don't know if NBC expected it not to but for those of us old enough to remember when Johnny Carson left and Jay Leno took over, ratings dipped then, too.
I never really cared for Jay Leno and I don't particularly like Conan. But my opinion doesn't matter since I don't think I'm the demographic Conan O'Brien panders to. What matters is that it's only been 7 or 8 months since Jay Leno voluntarily left the Tonight Show. Conan has not had sufficient opportunity to find his stride and build his audience.
The talk was that NBC would move Leno back to 11:35 Eastern and the Tonight Show to 12:05. This would have killed The Tonight Show, a permanent fixture of television in the 11:35 time slot since before there was color TV . So, rather than commit sacrilege, I get a news alert this evening that Leno will be returning to the Tonight Show.
My take on it? NBC is bowing to the will of a single narcissistic star upon whom they are hanging their entire late-night structure. Jay Leno was bored with The Tonight Show and said he was leaving. NBC panicked and offered him a deal he couldn't refuse to stick around and do a new show. The new show didn't do so well and he was ready to hang that up so NBC said they'd put him back on the Tonight Show and completely screwed (that's not the word I wanted to use) Conan O'Brien, not taking him into account at all.
It's a mistake. Even if Leno returns, The Tonight Show will never be the same, he'll retire (again) in relatively short order and NBC won't have an established talent to replace him. They're screwed. They should really just drop Jay (or, better yet, just put him on one or two nights so he stays on the air), let him lie in the bed he made and allow Conan to fill those all-too-big shoes left for him by Carson and Leno.