A "reporter" (late-night talk-show host Jay Leno in disguise, center) grills NBC Co-Chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff about Leno's future. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
Conan O'Brien will take over the ''Tonight'' Show next June -- and what happens to deposed host Jay Leno after that is anybody's guess.
Leno's last show will be Friday, May 29, and O'Brien will start the following Monday, June 1, NBC executives said today.
The announcement, though, came through a bit of a gag by Leno himself ...
During a Television Critics Association meeting, NBC co-chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff received persistent, hardball questioning from a "reporter" in the crowd -- a bald, bearded fellow in the back of the room. His questioning got to be so outlandish (from "Will Leno still be paid the rest of the year?" to "Will 'Manimal' come back?"), it became obvious the reporter was actually Leno himself in disguise.
NBC is angling to keep Leno with the network but the late-night king has indicated he's ready to jump ship. Eager NBC competitors, including other networks and syndicators, are eager to help him make the leap.
Rumors are consistent that ABC is courting the late-night icon to move to its network. Which makes today's shenanigans even more curious: The Leno prank is similar to one Jimmy Kimmel pulled at this annual TV critics gathering last week. Kimmel, the ABC late-night host whose future would be in question if Leno moved to that network, also appeared in disguise and asked crazy questions about Leno's possibility coming to ABC.
Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff, NBC Entertainment co-chairmen, were asked about the specter of Leno being hired by ABC and overpowering O'Brien in the ratings.
''We really believe in the decisions we've made with our partners, including Jay'' and are standing by them, Silverman replied.
Jimmy Fallon is poised to take over O'Brien's ''Late Night'' in March or April of 2009, after honing his approach in brief Internet shows, Silverman and Graboff said.
O'Brien will wrap his ''Late Night'' run sometime in the first quarter of the year, with exact dates to be determined, the executives said. O'Brien reruns will fill the gap until Fallon takes over.