Bill Carter, the author of the seminal late-night expose The Late Shift reports in the New York Times blog Media Decoder that NBC is considering giving The Tonight Show back to paragon of lazy sub-mediocrity Jay Leno. The ratings for the late night institution have slipped considerably since the brilliant Conan O'Brien took over and ratings for Leno's nightly prime time talk show have been consistently disappointing as well.

The Tonight Show always seemed like an odd fit for O'Brien, whose caffeinated, oddball shtick seems tailor-made for a much later time slot. The network met with O'Brien and Leno today and don't deny considering shifting Leno back to his old slot. NBC has reportedly been getting pressure from affiliates worried that the low ratings of Leno's prime time space-filler are hurting their local newscasts. Rumors of the cancellation of Leno's nightly crapfests have been swirling for months. NBC acknowledged Leno's low ratings in the following statement: “Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. As we have said all along, Jay’s show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network. It has, however, presented some issues for our affiliates. Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve the performance.”

It's unclear what will happen to O'Brien if Leno gets his old job back. Of course, this isn't the first time O'Brien appeared on the verge of losing a late-night job so we remain, as always, cautiously optimistic.


UPDATE: Carter says a plan being discussed with O'Brien and Leno would move Leno to 11:35 for a half-hour show, with O'Brien following at 12:05 for an hour. Late Night With Jimmy Fallon would start at 1:05. Read the full story here.