It seemed like a gamble well before NBC announced that it was canceling the 10 p.m. primetime experiment, The Jay Leno Show, and moving Leno back to 11:35 p.m. It seemed like a gamble nearly 5 years ago, when NBC announced that Jay Leno would depart The Tonight Show and Late Night host Conan O'Brien would take his place.
At the time - and all the way up until the moment he signed off as Tonight Show host - Leno held the No. 1 spot in late night TV. So why bump your No. 1 guy and replace him with O'Brien? It just didn't make sense then.
And as the wheels fall off the NBC late night bus and the network scrambles to keep the bus on the road, it's making even less sense now.
So how did this all come about? And where is it going? Here's a quick timeline of events:
- September 2004: Jay Leno announces his retirement - effective in 2009. NBC appoints Late Night host Conan O'Brien as Leno's successor to The Tonight Show. "I am thrilled to get this opportunity,'' O'Brien said in a statement at the time. ''I am thankful to everyone at NBC … and I am particularly grateful to Jay for all the generous support and kindness he has always shown me."
- October 2007: Leno says he might like to stick around past 2009. In other words, cracks form in NBC's great late night transition plan. Leno isn't so keen on retiring and makes a number of public suggestions that he might like hosting a new late night talk show on another network.
- May 2008: Jimmy Fallon wins role as new Late Night host. The former Saturday Night Live star is given the go ahead to host the new Late Night once O'Brien heads west to host Tonight.
- July 2008: NBC announces Leno's departure from and Conan's start on the Tonight Show. But Leno's desire to stay put is clearly aired when Leno dresses as a reporter and attends and NBC press conference to ask the question: What will happen to Jay? The executives had no ready answer.
- Summer 2008: Speculation mounts as to where Leno will go. ABC? FOX? Vegas? Retirement?
- December 2008: Leno's destination is made clear: He's sticking with NBC. Not only that, but he'll get a primetime talk show airing at 10 p.m. five nights a week.
- February 2009: Andy Richter joins The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. The move reunites the two comedians, as Richter debuted as O'Brien's sidekick on Late Night.
- March 2, 2009: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon debuts.
- May 29, 2009: Jay Leno says goodbye to The Tonight Show.
- June 1, 2009: Conan O'Brien debuts as host of The Tonight Show. Inaugural guest Will Farrell makes a prescient comment: "Don't get me wrong. I'm pulling for you, man. But this whole thing is a crap shoot at best."
- July 2009: Though most industry talk suggests that Leno's show will be an epic failure, research from the firm NewMediaMetrics uses predictive analysis to call Leno a probable "powerhouse" at 10 p.m.
- Sept. 14, 2009: The Jay Leno Show premieres.
- Jan. 7, 2010: Rumors speculate that Leno, steadily tanking in ratings, will be canceled. Individual journalist Scott Jones breaks the story on his site, FTVLive.com.
- Jan. 8, 2010: NBC makes it official. NBC says it will most likely move Leno back to 11:35 p.m. and bump Tonight to 12:05 a.m. and Late Night to 1:05 a.m.
- Jan. 11, 2010: The first rumbling that Conan isn't happy with the situation.
- Jan. 13, 2010: Conan tells NBC he'd rather quit than mess with Tonight.
- Jan. 14, 2010: Rumors circulate that NBC will give Tonight back to Leno and ask O'Brien to leave the network (taking a hefty bag of cash with him).
- Jan. 16, 2010: Reports circulate that NBC and O'Brien are in negotiations for O'Brien's departure from The Tonight Show and NBC. Bargaining chips include a $30 to $40 million severance package for O'Brien and hefty packages for staffers, control of characters like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and when O'Brien can turn up in a new show on another network.
- Jan. 18, 2010: Website and "religious movement" I'm with CoCo stages a series of fan rallies to support O'Brien and denounce NBC's decision.
- Jan. 21, 2010: O'Brien is officially removed from The Tonight Show.
- March 1, 2010: Leno returns to The Tonight Show.
- March 11, 2010: O'Brien announces the Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour, a 30-city stage tour featuring Andy Richter and The Max Weinberg Seven.
- April 12, 2010: O'Brien reveals that he will return to late night television in November 2010 on cable station TBS.