Comedian Jay Leno, the host of The Tonight Show, says the shake-up started in 2004 when NBC executives asked him to give up his number one–rated show to make room for a new host—Conan O'Brien. The switchover, they said, would happen in five years.
Jay told his fans he was retiring, and in May 2009, he passed the torch to Conan as planned. Then, in an unprecedented move, NBC decided to keep Jay on the network and created The Jay Leno Show, which aired in a coveted primetime slot, five nights a week.
A few months later, Jay and Conan came back on the air in their new roles. But, after a strong start, ratings for both shows began to plummet and rumors swirled that The Jay Leno Show would be canceled.
Instead of canceling Jay's show outright, NBC came up with a new plan. They asked Jay to cut his show to 30 minutes and move to the 11:35 p.m. time slot, which would push The Tonight Show back to 12:05 a.m.
Jay accepted the offer, but Conan turned down the deal and took a $45 million buyout for himself and his staff.
Conan explains his decision in a letter to his fans.
On Friday, January 22, Conan hosted his final episode and said goodbye. "Walking away from The Tonight Show is the hardest thing I have ever had to do," he said. "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."
On March 1, 2010, Jay will return to NBC as the host of The Tonight Show.