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Seemingly unstoppable late night force Jay Leno has already demonstrated that he needs no writers to conquer his time slot: Audiences looking for non-addictive insomnia cures and lovemaking soundtracks clearly prefer Leno's middling presence and chirpy joke-delivery over his more cantankerous competitors. For whatever reason, however, the management at NBC decided four years ago that Leno required an expiration date, unfeelingly stamping the host on the forehead with a "BEST BEFORE 2009" notice, and designating Conan O'Brien as his successor. Now, a full two years before his contract expires, rival networks and studios are unfurling their green, high-currency plumage, and doing the late-night mating dance for the still viable talk show host. The NY Times reports:

Senior executives at ABC and Fox said that their networks had discreetly gotten the message to Mr. Leno that they were waiting eagerly for the time when they would be able to make official overtures. [...]

Sony Pictures Television has made an approach through intermediaries to let Mr. Leno and his representatives know that as soon as he is allowed to discuss his next move, the studio will make him a rich offer for a syndicated late-night show that would make him the highest-paid host in late-night television, put his name on a new theater on the Sony lot and give him a financial interest in Sony music artists who appear on his show. [...]

NBC executives, including the chief executive of NBC Universal, Jeff Zucker, have reaffirmed their commitment to Mr. O'Brien. And if they did change their minds, they would owe Mr. O'Brien a penalty payment: an estimated $45 million.

Industry watchers suspect Leno will gravitate to whichever offer makes NBC seem like the biggest losers in this botched arrangement. Certainly, Sony's pledge to gift Leno with his very own theater, a yearly contract in the low trillions, plus a direct stake in Justin Timberlake and Beyoncés album sales would be an extremely attractive arrangement for the freakishly bechinned vintage-auto-enthusiast. But don't count out the networks, and particularly the anonymous third-party candidate who sent Jay a mint '52 Jaguar, along with a handwritten note affixed to the windshield reading, "Jay: Enjoy the ride. And remember: We can always shuffle old-man Letterman into the Craig Ferguson slot, and slip you into the one-one-three-oh, big guy! Love, L.M."