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Jay Leno rips off Jimmy Kimmel



Lenodisguise BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- If, as the old joke goes, imitation is the sincerest form of television, then NBC emerged as the most sincere network around while addressing TV critics here on today.

Last week, ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel posed as a reporter during a press conference to show he wasn’t estranged from the network as rumors swirled that NBC host Jay Leno might land there when his contract expires in December 2009.

So when a bearded, bald guy took the microphone during a press conference with NBC executives here at the TV Critics Association’s summer press tour, it didn’t take many questions before real reporters figured out what was going on.

“Do you think what Jimmy Kimmel did…was kind of cheesy, coming (here) in disguise?” asked Leno, drawing laughs. “I know Leno got an Emmy nomination for his website garage but not for the Tonight Show, do you think people liked him better as a mechanic than as a talk show host?...(And) is it true you offered him a fifth hour of Today?”

Jayleno But the prank didn’t shake the perception that NBC has a serious late night problem brewing (especially since Leno didn’t stick around to take questions). NBC announced Monday that Leno’s last show is Friday, May 29, 2009, and Conan O’Brien will take over the 11:30 p.m. timeslot the following Monday, June 1.

Since Saturday Night Live veteran Jimmy Fallon will take O’Brien’s timeslot - debuting online this fall, six months early, in a special 12:30 p.m. Web cast - the open question left is, where does Leno land? Particularly since Leno’s ratings have risen recently as O’Brien’s ratings have fallen.

Critics say Leno's recent actions, joking about a possible move to ABC on his show and telling USA Today he was done with NBC last week, shows that the network has pretty much thrown their longtime late night host under the bus in search of the younger ratings expected from O'Brien and Fallon. Leno may be playing nice now, because he's still under contract for 18 months.

“The point for you guys to take away is that we have a great relationship with Jay Leno,” said Ben Silverman, NBC entertainment chief, noting that the network has been criticized in the past for losing David letterman, Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw, only to see each of their replacements excel.

“(Leno’s) really good at what he does and is going to want to continue doing what he does,” said Silverman, adding that Leno felt a USA Today story last week which quoted him saying “I am definitely done - with NBC,” took his quote out of context. “He’s focused on what he’s doing today.”

The tough question left for NBC: What if Leno wants to keep doing what he does today -- namely, host the Tonight Show?

NBC also confused critics by announcing that Saturday Night Live veteran Amy Poehler will star in a prime time series for NBC debuting in March, developed by the executive producers of the network’s comedy, The Office. But it won't be an Office spinoff.Amypoehler

Details on how this will all work, which NBC suits were reluctant to divulge because they don't want to snark off the Office producers, didn't make much sense -- especially since the network is also developing an Office spin-off. The actresses’ pregnancy – she’s expected to have her baby in October or November – complicated plans for the project, keeping NBC from airing the first episode after the Super Bowl, and resulting in Poehler staying on SNL until she has her baby.

Silverman said he hopes to develop a crew of producers and actors from the Office to fill other shows, much in the same way creator Lorne Michaels has developed a crew of actors to top film and TV projects from the SNL cast.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:49pm]


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