Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien is on shaky ground in his complaint against NBC, according to the celebrity gossip site TMZ:

We’re now told Conan’s contract never specified a guaranteed time period. If NBC wanted to run the show at 3:00 AM, Conan would have no recourse. We’re told Conan’s reps never even asked for a guaranteed time period when they negotiated his contract — shocking, but true.

By contrast, we’re told Jay Leno‘s deal specifically guarantees his 10:00 PM time period, so the network must negotiate a new deal with him before he moves back to 11:35 PM.

NBC did guarantee that Conan would host “The Tonight Show,” and the network has been willing to make good on that promise.

As for Conan’s legal position, his claim is a lot more tenuous than first reported to us.

This may be why O’Brien’s public statement yesterday did not explicitly state that he was quitting the Tonight Show (although it clearly suggested that he was done with it), and why the comic’s  representatives have reportedly been seeking an agreement with NBC as opposed to taking a hard line against the network, threatening lawsuits and the like. It also would explain why NBC Universal chairman Jeff Gaspin has seemed so unperturbed during the very public controversy: confidence in his network’s legal position in the matter.

Clearly both NBC and the O’Brien people fouled up badly in this situation at various times, but as I noted yesterday, the ultimate result of Leno’s removal from prime time and return to late night will probably be to increase competition in both time slots. NBC ‘s loss will be the viewers’ gain.