America, You Have No Idea How Close We Came to Seeing Jay Leno Every Night at 8 P.M.

We’re still working our way through Lynn Hirschberg’s massive (and massively entertaining) New York Times Magazine cover story on Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show transition plan, but once we hit the following section, we knew it was time to take a quick break. When Vulture buddy Nikki Finke broke the news back in December that Jay Leno would not be leaving the network, but rather that he’d taking over the 10–11 p.m. time slot five nights a week, virtually everyone at the network was caught by surprise (including Conan O’Brien, apparently). However, in Hirschberg’s piece, we come to learn that Jeff Zucker originally had other, far more hilarious ideas about how he might be able to keep the Chin as part of the NBC family.

We already know that Jay’s new 10 p.m. show will be cheap to produce and (likely) very profitable for the network (Jay brags in the piece that “We can do five of my new show for the cost of one CSI: Miami“), but cost wasn’t the primary factor driving Zucker’s decision: He was more afraid of losing Leno to a rival network. So, in order to keep Leno with the Peacock, he started brainstorming:

To entice him to stay at NBC, Zucker offered Leno a daytime show, a cable show, a series of specials. When Leno turned all those down, Zucker proposed a half-hour show, five nights a week at 8 p.m. The idea was that Leno would just do his monologue, riffing off the events of the day. “Eight p.m. doesn’t work,” Leno explained to me. “I never assume anyone is watching because I’m good-looking. You’re selling a product. In my particular instance, the product, hopefully, is jokes. With The Tonight Show, you have the jokes plus Angelina Jolie, and that’s a little more enticement. A half-hour monologue every night doesn’t seem like enough enticement.”

We’re not surprised that Leno didn’t bite on any of these ideas, but we were surprised to learn that Zucker didn’t offer Leno Joey Fatone’s job as host of The Singing Bee. But more than anything else, we’re just thankful that Jay Leno didn’t end up doing 30 minutes worth of monologue material every night at 8 p.m. Can you even imagine? More to follow on this huge profile once we have time to digest it.

Heeeere’s … Conan!!! [NYT]

America, You Have No Idea How Close We Came to Seeing Jay Leno Every Night at 8 P.M.