At NBC's TCA press conference yesterday, network co-chairs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff confirmed their plans to eject Jay Leno from The Tonight Show via jerry-rigged catapult device on May 29, 2009. That gives them only three rushed days to erect a new set and change the dressing room door names from "Kevin Eubanks" to "Masturbating Bear" for the premiere of replacement host, Conan O'Brien. There to press the executives on the questionably motivated decision to fire the highest-rated name in late night (Graboff insisted they'd like to keep Leno at NBC Universal, but give us a break): Leno himself, disguised in a bald wig, goatee, and glasses:
"Now, Brett Favre retired and then wanted to come back, and the Packers said no. What do you make of that?" Leno also asked, alluding to some speculation that NBC might bring him back on "Tonight" and prompting the following response by NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, "Well, everyone's entitled to change their mind, but I would imagine that puts management in an impossible situation."
Also on Leno's list of questions: "Is it true that you offered Leno a fifth hour on the 'Today' show?"
The stunt, labeled by Graboff as "Jay's homage to Kimmel," didn't play as well the second time, causing more confusion than laughs since, with a bald cap and beard, Leno was all but unrecognizable.
As many have noted already, the stunt was almost identical to one pulled by Jimmy Kimmel last week, differentiated only by the fact that Kimmel's succeeded in making the reporters present laugh, as opposed to just feeling kind of awkward, filling the bloated silence that followed every wounded query by shifting their gazes downward and flipping haphazardly through their notepads. That said, no amount of bald wigs or NFL analogies can appear to save Leno now: The epic late shift is underway. We now merely await inevitable ABC casualty Martin Bashir to try his own riff on the stunt, showing up to TCA in a burqa to press Steve McPherson on the future of Nightline.