Networks line up to woo Jay Leno

Fri Jun 27, 2008 12:03am EDT
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By James Hibberd and Paul Gough

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Don't pity Jay Leno.

The host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" is losing his home of 17 years in 2009, but Leno finds himself in an enviable position. Still packing the ratings punch that delivers the lion's share of NBC's estimated $300 million in annual late-night revenue, the 58-year-old comic is being wooed by a host of suitors. ABC, Fox, Sony and even CNN have been reported trying to lure Leno, and he won't come cheap: NBC pays him $27 million per year.

Little did the Peacock know back in 2004 when then-NBC Universal TV president Jeff Zucker guaranteed Conan O'Brien that he would take Leno's job five years later that the succession would turn late-night on its ear.

It's a situation unthinkable back in the 1992-93 season, when an earlier round of late-night wars deposited Leno in Johnny Carson's chair instead of David Letterman, whose "Late Show" on CBS has trailed the "Tonight" audience.

With Leno's future fast becoming the industry's favorite guessing game, The Hollywood Reporter weighs his options (in descending order of likelihood) and forecasts how each would impact late-night.

And we won't even take a percentage.

Option 1: Leno takes ABC's 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. time slot occupied by "Nightline" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

ABC is Leno's most likely destination. He could compete directly with Letterman and O'Brien with a solid network promotional platform behind him.   Continued...

<p>"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno arrives for the premiere of "National Lampoon Presents One, Two, Many" in Los Angeles, April 10, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>