Last week, after NBC announced plans to move "The Jay Leno Show” to 10:35 p.m. and bump "The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” to 11:05 p.m., O’Brien, who rejected NBC’s plan, delivered possibly his most caustic joke of the week.
"And I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life,” he said during his Wednesday monologue. "Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too.”
All this came as a result of NBC’s plan to a) appease Leno and b) devise a cheap alternative to expensive, hourlong dramas. "The Jay Leno Show” bowed on NBC in September with 17.7 million viewers for the first episode, but the numbers fell fast soon afterward, hovering around 6 million since its second week. NBC’s heavy promotion of Leno never allowed O’Brien to build momentum on "Tonight.” O’Brien started losing regularly to CBS’ "The Late Show With David Letterman.” Meanwhile, local NBC affiliates began grumbling about the low lead-in numbers that local news was receiving from Leno.
But Leno has a Rasputin-like hold over the network. NBC has moved the programming equivalent of mountains to make Leno happy.