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July 21, 2008

NBC announces Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show' exit date

Leno_jay TCA -- Jay Leno’s final "Tonight Show" will be Friday, May 29, 2009.

Conan O'Brien’s first "Tonight Show" will be the following Monday, June 1.

O’Brien’s last “Late Night” show will be sometime in early first quarter 2009.

That's from NBC co-chairs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff at the critics press tour. Leno shows up heavily disguised as a critic at the executive session and pulled the same stunt Jimmy Kimmel played last week – asking his bosses about the network’s late-night plans.

“Do you think people like Leno as a mechanic better than a talk show host?” Leno asks. ”Is it true you offered Leno a fifth hour on the today show?”

Later, Graboff said the network stands behind their decision to hand over "Tonight Show" to O'Brien.

“We have all witnessed a lot of transitions at NBC,” NBC co-chair Mark Graboff says. “We really believe in the decisions we have made with our partners.”

Graboff also said Leno’s recent comment to USA Today that he’s "done with NBC" was taken slightly out of context.

“We’re not agreeing that he’s going to ABC,” Graboff says. “We’re still talking. We’re not going to concede at this point. We‘re presenting him with a number of opportunities. We can’t force him to do something.”

After the panel, Silverman ran down major changes that have occurred at broadcast networks the years -- from Leno taking over from Johnny Carson, to NBC releasing Letterman, to Tom Brokaw leaving NBC Nightly News -- and noted that all of them, at the time, were called big mistakes.

"We've ridden these waters before," he says. "You can never devalue what a brand like the 'Tonight Show' is worth."

Silverman also noted the point of Leno's appearance at TCA was to show the network still had a good relationship with the talk-show host (which some noted was the impact of the Kimmel stunt). But this time, Leno was so heavily disguised that most were left confused rather than laughing. And any network should know that a repeat never plays as well as an original.


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