The War on Jay Leno
A Soho House summit, secret e-mails, brutal economics: the inside story of how TV's No. 1 late-night host ended up on the way out at NBC.
Outside of the Fox stations, syndication would prove a challenge. Tribune already has locked up Arsenio Hall for a late-night debut this fall, though some suggest there is a world in which Tribune as well as WGN could become options for Leno. Many of the other independent stations already have made commitments to off-network sitcoms such as 2 Broke Girls or Modern Family for the foreseeable future. And, as one source puts it, benching Leno for a year or so is unlikely because the host, who works 24/7 on TV and in comedy clubs, isn't interested in sitting out. Says that source: "He doesn't need the money, and he doesn't spend the money. Being on the air is much more important to him."
Cable, too, could present options for Leno. Multiple sources suggest at least two cable networks have expressed interest in him. Other possibilities include a daytime show a la Ellen, a primetime variety show or even a CNN entry reuniting him with former NBCU chief Jeff Zucker, who famously set the last round of late-night wars in motion in 2004 when he promised O'Brien he would inherit The Tonight Show in 2009 if he re-upped on Late Night for five years.
Nearer term, NBC is said to want nothing more than to avoid another Leno circus -- so much so that NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke has involved himself personally in the Fallon negotiations. The network, along with Leno, declined comment.
Leno is said to be willing to exit the network amicably, if NBC handles its end of the transition in the same manner. After all, he is in his 60s this time around, not his 50s, and he (and the business of late night) are in a much different place than during the 2009 fight for Tonight. Still, a decision has yet to be made about his next steps -- and according to sources, one is unlikely to come in the immediate future. Greenblatt, for one, is hoping for a smooth transition, telling The Wall Street Journal in September: "I'm sure there will be a day when these guys -- Letterman and Leno -- wake up and say, 'It's time for us to exit gracefully.' "
Alex Ben Block, Paul Bond, Marisa Guthrie and Lacey Rose contributed to this report.