Heroes: Count Jay Leno In

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Leno was even more incognito than this.


Jay Leno may be headed out The Tonight Show door next spring. And he may turn up on ABC next fall. But for now, he’s a loyal do-bee.

In heavy make-up, bald-headed with a goatee, he turned up this morning in the back of the big press room to fire some fake questions at his current bosses, Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff.

Silverman is Mr. Show at NBC, and Graboff is Mr. Biz, and they handled Jay’s queries with aplomb. With the real critics’ questions, not so much.

Leno’s last show is May 29, 2009, and Conan O’Brien takes The Tonight Show hosting mantle June 1, having ankled his Late Night early in the year.

Replacing him will be former Saturday Night Live star Jimmy Fallon, who will get his sea legs with a show on the Internet for a couple of months before going on the air in March or April.

Buzz in some circles is that Leno is miffed at NBC for turning him out to pasture early and that he can’t wait to get to ABC and eat O’Brien’s ratings for a late-night snack.

Mr. Show and Mr. Biz tried to dampen that buzz.

“We’ve witnessed a lot of transitions at NBC,” Silverman said, and they think the late-night one will go smoothly. “We’re still talking with Jay about staying within NBC Universal, and we’re confidant The Tonight Show will continue to be dominant in its time period.”

“We made a long-term deal with him four years ago,” Graboff said. “We can’t force him to do something. We’re presenting him with a number of opportunities that we think would be great, and that we hope he thinks would be great.”

Discussing other matters, the honchos said:

--Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler will get her own show next year, from the same people who make The Office, but it will not be a straight spinoff of that show. NBC plans to make that series, too, but with somebody other than Poehler.
--They think Heroes will come back Sept. 22, with an even bigger audience than it has had before. The two-hour season opener is a big deal. Executive producer “Tim Crane has nailed it, awesome, compelling, big fun, accessible stuff.”
--Their critically lauded but ratings-challenged Thursday night comedies (My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock, The Office) can get by with lower numbers because they “hit beyond their weight,” delivering “a more coveted viewer,” smarter, wealthier, than most shows. NBC has also found “new ways to monetize the shows,” including higher fees for selling them to cable networks rather than to individual broadcast stations in syndication.

“We have the best most sophisticated actors that night,” said Mr. Show, listing cross-over movie-stars Jason Lee (Earl), Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Steve Carrell and Rainn Wilson (The Office) and Poehler. “When you analyze it, they go way beyond the culture of the medium. I don’t know if there’s ever been that much talent assembled around one night of television.”

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