Today Bill Carter reports in the Times that networks and TV studios are already lining up to snatch Jay Leno away when his Tonight Show contract concludes at the end of 2009. Leno, who has been slated to be replaced by Conan O'Brien at that time, can contractually begin to negotiate in November 2009; nevertheless, plenty of money and perks are already on the table, including a reported $40 million a year from Sony — who also plan to build Leno his own theater on the studio's lot. (For Jay Leno!!) Given that the competition in 2009 should be fast and furious — Leno is free to return to TV just two months after the negotiation period begins — how exorbitant might the offers get? Vulture looks into its crystal ball to find out.
November 1, 2009 ABC pledges to kick Nightline off the air to make room for Jay Leno, offering him $50 million a year.
November 5, 2009 Sony raises its offer to $60 million a year, plus a gold-plated motorcycle.
November 8, 2009 ABC counters with a promise to explain to Leno the secrets of Lost.
November 11, 2009 When Leno expresses dissatisfaction with Sony Television's plans for the Jay Leno Theater, executives offer to let him design it himself. The resulting structure is a pale imitation of plans designed first by other, edgier architects.
November 13, 2009 Desperate ABC executives raise their offer to $75 million and promise that Kevin Eubanks will replace Charles Gibson as anchor of World News Tonight.
November 21, 2009 Getting in on the action, Fox renegotiates its affiliate deals to become a round-the-clock network in hopes of attracting Leno, who is offered not just the 11:30 to 12:30 slot but the entire overnight shift, from 11:30 to dawn.
November 30, 2009 Sony Television annexes the picturesque Sea of Japan island of Niijima and renames it LenoLand, replacing its distinctive local statuary with busts of Jay Leno.
December 5, 2009 NBC wunderkind Ben Silverman, driven mad at being left out of the fun, offers Leno $100 million a year to continue as host of the Tonight Show. "That doesn't mean we're giving up on Conan," Silverman tells reporters. "We'll run Jay's and Conan's shows simultaneously, in split-screen."
December 7, 2009 Fox's Kevin Reilly hints to Leno that he can't make any promises, but he's "pretty sure" he can get Leno into the Hollywood Round of American Idol.
December 13, 2009 Holding unprecedented power over every network, Leno demands that the Tonight Show run on all of them at once. All four network chiefs accept, and further agree to run Sony Television's syndicated The Jay Leno Show the other 23 hours of every day.