On Thursday night, as many media outlets were reporting that Jay Leno's struggling 10 p.m. talk show would be going on hiatus, the comedian came out swinging during his opening monologue, cracking jokes about being canceled, threatening to leave for another network, and taking potshots at NBC, his home for nearly 20 years.
"As you may have heard, there's a rumor floating around that we were canceled. ... I heard it coming in this morning on the radio," Leno said. "So far, nobody's said anything to me, but if we did get canceled, it'd give us time to maybe do some traveling. In fact, I understand Fox is beautiful this time of year."
As the audience whistled their approval, Leno followed up the joke with another barb: "I don't think there's any truth to the rumors," he said. "See, it's always been my experience NBC only cancels you when you're in first place, so we're fine."
It was a reference to NBC's decision to replace him as host of "The Tonight Show" when his contract expired last year, despite his show leading all late-night programming in the Nielsen ratings, and it wasn't the only jab he'd make at the network during his monologue.
"Hey, Kev," Leno said to bandleader Kevin Eubanks. "What does NBC stand for? Never Believe your Contract."
In all actuality, by the time Leno's monologue aired, most of the news had shifted to whether or not he'd return to his old 11:30 p.m. slot following NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics next month, a move that would leave Conan O'Brien — who accepted ownership of "The Tonight Show" in June — as the odd man out. TMZ reported that NBC has presented O'Brien with two options: either do his show from midnight to 1 a.m., or leave for another network.
Late Thursday, NBC released a statement regarding O'Brien's future, saying, "We have the best comedy team in the business. We remain committed to keeping Conan O'Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years, and is one of the most respected entertainers on television."