When O'Brien's contract neared its end and he was courted by other networks in 2001, NBC extended his contract and essentially guaranteed him he would be the fifth host of Tonight. The network neglected to let Leno know that until his contract extension in 2004, when they informed him he would remain host for five more years and then transition the show to O'Brien in 2009. When that time arrived, other networks conveyed interest in Leno; NBC, in an effort to keep both of its late-night stars, offered Leno a nightly primetime show before the local news and O'Brien.
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and The Jay Leno Show failed to attract immediate viewers, and NBC affiliates, seeing their viewership decline, grew restless. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker, alongside chairman Jeff Gaspin and executive Rick Ludwin, created a remedy: move Leno back to his 11:35 pm start time and bump O'Brien a half-hour later, to 12:05 am. O'Brien and his staff were both disappointed and furious; when it became clear O'Brien would not agree to the proposed changes, the situation grew heated. Though not a breach of either host's contract, the change resulted in a public outcry and public demonstrations largely in support of O'Brien. O'Brien's public statement that he would "not participate in the destruction of The Tonight Show" led to negotiations with NBC for a settlement. O'Brien and his staff received 45 million dollars to walk away from the network, with his final Tonight Show airing January 21, 2010; Leno was reinstated as host that March.
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