Jan 16, 2010 12:00 PM by Courtney Hazlett
Will next week be Conan O'Brien's last? ESPN columnist Bill Simmons tweeted earlier this morning, "FYI: Next week is Conan's final week hosting the Tonight Show. His staff is trying to book big guests so he goes out with a bang. It's true."
A similar story on PEOPLE.com reported the same information, attributing it to "a source close to O'Brien."
If it's true, it's a closely guarded secret at the time of the writing. Several staffers on both Jay Leno and O'Brien's shows seemed genuinely surprised by the latest rumor.
"That's definitely not the plan as far as I'm aware," said one Leno staffer, who declined to divulge just what plan, if any, was indeed in place. Reps for both shows declined to make on-the-record statements.
So, let's say for the sake of argument that NBC brass has decided that the longer O'Brien is around to fan the flames, the worse the nightly network barbecue becomes, and his NBC ID will expire next week.
That leaves his big bookings, as they stand, Colin Firth on Jan. 18; Paul Bettany and Spoon on Jan. 19; Joss Stone on Jan. 20; and Barry Manilow on Jan. 21, according to a late-night television insider. Of that list, Firth is really the only one who could be considered a big get, and that really depends on whether he takes home a Golden Globe Sunday night.
On the other side of the rumor spectrum, Nikki Finke is reporting that NBC boss, Jeff Zucker, is threatening to keep O'Brien off the air for "3 1/2 years" if he doesn't play ball with the network and agree to switch time slots.