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Leno, O'Brien, and NBC's Quagmire

It’s hard to imagine how NBC could have bungled its late-night lineup any worse.

The network painted itself into a corner when it swapped out Jay Leno for Conan O'Brien as The Tonight Show host last year.

Now, the peacocks have come home to roost at NBC following Leno's disastrous 10 p.m. show. The network plans to put Leno back in his old 11:35 p.m. slot, shift O’Brien back to 12:05 a.m. and, well, few folks are paying attention to how it all affects Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, apparently.

There’s still hope for Leno, O’Brien, and the rest of the NBC lineup to survive this programming debacle, but it’s going to take some near perfect execution to ride out this media maelstrom.

The Jay Leno Show turned out to be a turkey, transforming NBC’s primetime lineup into a serious ratings drain. And O’Brien continues to struggle against rival talker David Letterman over at CBS, a show Leno routinely outdrew when he lorded over The Tonight Show.

The remedy to the problem may only compound NBC’s woes.

O’Brien all but refused to move to a new time slot according to a funny but strained public statement.

It’s hard not to hear Letterman’s signature cackle ricocheting around the Ed Sullivan Theater, where he hosts his nightly show. His Jan. 12 monologue took unbridled glee at mocking the imbroglio.

The seeds of destruction were planted six years ago when O’Brien signed a contract extension with NBC which included him taking over The Tonight Show in 2009. The network didn’t want to lose O’Brien to a competitor and figured Leno would be fading by then.

But while Leno’s hair kept getting more gray, his ability to lure in viewers stayed forever young. Leno’s dominance over Letterman continued more or less for those six years, and when it came time to hand the franchise over to the red-haired comic it seemed like the worst possible decision.