Leno Mess: NBC Plays Meet the Press Sunday

The NBC TV Critics Assn. tour coming Sunday reminds me of the recruiting scandal that prompted USC to deny its basketball team the chance to play in the post-season.

Namely, the people responsible for the mess won’t be there, leaving behind their successors to face the music.

The problem with the Jay Leno-to-primetime plan from the get-go was always that it appeared to have no logical fallback position in the event of failure. And the “How do we keep two guys who want the same job?” conundrum that NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker kicked down the highway in 2004 is finally, and perhaps inevitably, coming home to roost.

The critics tour ain’t what it used to be, but barring an official announcement from NBC on or before Sunday, the executives participating in Sunday morning’s Q&A — NBC Universal TV Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin and Primetime Entertainment Prez Angela Bromstad — are going to be peppered with questions regarding a scenario that they had nothing to do with creating. Then again, who said life’s fair?

The nagging issue is how NBC can fill the gaping hole that moving Leno will leave — and, parenthetically, if cutting “Southland” loose was, in hindsight, not a terrific idea simply from a “We need product” standpoint. And does Conan O’Brien take a demotion lying down, or turn his big agents at Endeavor loose on finding him a new situation, though his options are less appealing now than they were before the revamped “Tonight Show” launched.

Maybe NBC will partially fill the void by expanding to a three-hour block of “The Biggest Loser.” Given the situation the network faces, that at least sounds appropriate.

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