An executive at NBC Universal recently was dismissing the latest iteration of long-standing rumors that parent General Electric Co. might look to unload the division.
Asked what it will take to silence the speculation altogether, assuming such a transaction doesn't happen, the exec said it will end when NBC bounces back from fourth place in prime time.
Of course, this person also pointed out how silly this is because the network's performance in that high-profile daypart, while important, is offset to a degree by the success in the morning of "Today" and in late night, led by Jay Leno's dominant "Tonight Show."
This is worth noting because Friday is either Jay Leno's 15th anniversary as host of the ultralucrative "Tonight Show" or, if the succession deal NBC Universal struck in 2004 to give his post to Conan O'Brien holds, the beginning of his final two years in the job.
Both distinctions are remarkable in their own way, and virtually inconceivable when Leno was flailing about in his first years in the job.
Truth is, he's still no match for the man he succeeded, his show often seeming less the legacy of Johnny Carson's "Tonight" than of Bob Hope's old overly broad NBC specials.
But there's no arguing Leno's importance to the bottom line. Estimates put the annual revenue from his "Tonight" at well north of $100 million.
Shaky start or no, he's dominating his time slot, out-drawing CBS' second-place "Late Show With David Letterman" season-to-date by an average of 1.6 million viewers, a 38 percent advantage overall and by almost a third in the age 18 to 49 demographic.
One would expect NBC to be celebrating this 15-year milestone with a big prime-time special and as much pomp as it could drum up.
But Leno is a lame duck because NBC was rightly concerned it would lose "Late Night" host O'Brien if he weren't assured he would succeed Leno before his red hair goes gray.
When you're General Electric and used to working out lengthy depreciation schedules on airplane engines, the idea of naming O'Brien as Leno's successor five years in advance -- or even two years out -- seems normal.
Recall the 2 1/2-year window the company gave the nation to get used to Brian Williams in place of Tom Brokaw on "The NBC Nightly News."
This gambit only works, however, if Leno doesn't entertain offers from the rivals NBC was so worried would steal O'Brien.
Leno supposedly will accept a comfortable deal from the network that stood by him a dozen years ago, when it looked like dumping him for Letterman was the sensible thing to do.
Never mind that nearly all of the execs who did the standing are gone themselves now.
Leno can drive one batty with the joke-telling style he's adopted since taking over "Tonight," relating bits in a shuffling fashion so even viewers who don't know or care about news can get bits that play off headlines.
He sets up his jokes in a way that ensures you'll get it. You know about this? I'm not making it up. No, really, this is true. He repeats the set up like a nervous tic. Then he hammers the punch lines. Twice.
What should be one-liners often need three, four, sometimes five lines.
But what Leno discovered in those early days struggling to replace a legend is that, if you want to draw the biggest audience, you can't afford to leave anyone behind out there.
NBC obviously feels the same way. The trick is for General Electric, or whoever owns NBC in two years, to keep both Leno and O'Brien content.
ONE MORE OBSTACLE GONE: A California judge, responding to a shareholder lawsuit, will not stop the deal to take Tribune Co. private, Tribune said in an amendment to its tender offer filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"We're pleased with the judge's ruling and looking forward to going ahead with the transaction," a Tribune spokesman said.
Tribune owns the Chicago Tribune.
WFLD GETS ITS JAN: Jan Jeffcoat, who has co-anchored the morning news at Fox's KRIV-TV in Houston since 2004, has been named Tamron Hall's replacement alongside Mike Barz on Fox's WFLD-Ch. 32 morning newscast, effective June 25.
Hall is headed to cable's MSNBC.
Jeffcoat got her start on TV as a 12-year-old on a kids' show in her hometown of Greenville, S.C. Last year she co-hosted an episode of "The Montel Williams Show."
Her JanJeffcoat.com Web site includes a picture of Southpaw, the Chicago White Sox mascot, attempting to bite Jeffcoat's head off. ---------- firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun