There are reports all over the place since yesterday about Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno. Their situation is a mess. One of them will have to go, or both of them will have to share the time slot from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weeknights.
But here’s what everyone’s missing: Lorne Michaels is the guy behind Conan. Lorne, the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live,” has been a fixture at NBC longer than almost anyone ‘ since 1975. He handpicked Conan to replace David Letterman years ago, and was executive producer of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
On top of that, Lorne is also the guy behind “30 Rock,” NBC’s biggest hit and award-winning comedy. How ironic: the hottest show on NBC is in the hands of a guy who lampoons the network on the show. And that same guy’s protege is in the middle of a network power struggle.
If NBC screws Conan in this battle, Michaels will not be a happy man. This is no small thing. His own contract with “SNL” runs through 2012. No one else can run that show. And it’s unlikely that “30 Rock” can run without him. Plus, Lorne is the exec producer of Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night,” a show that would be severely affected if it had to be moved back to 1:05 a.m. from its current 12:35 a.m. start time.
It’s a quandary.
Some TV veterans made the argument to me last night that as much as everyone loves Jay Leno, he is now “damaged goods.” Putting him back at 11:35 is not the answer, they say. Conan was the choice for the future. Stick with it, they say. Leno, scorned and unhappy, will move on to ABC or Fox or syndication. His monologue last night ‘ that NBC stood for “Never Believe (your) Contract” ‘ shows that he gets what’s going on, and isn’t taking it lightly, either.
The good betting at NBC, though, never goes against Lorne Michaels. And if Conan and Jimmy are somehow hurt in this deal, it will be a surprise. Tina Fey is probably already writing an episode of “30 Rock” about it right now. Whatever happens, it won’t be pretty.