With Conan O'Brien's exit official, CBS's David Letterman and Jay Leno are set to renew head-to-head competition at 11:35 p.m. EST on March 1 when Leno returns to "The Tonight Show" on NBC.
NBC and O'Brien agreed to a $45 million deal early Thursday morning, ending the late-night battle between O'Brien and Leno that had brewed for two weeks after the network announced it planned to cancel Leno's experiment in prime time.
The Leno-Letterman rematch comes at a time when their feud is in full bloom. Throughout the fallout with O'Brien, Letterman has regularly mocked Leno on "Late Show." He has called him "Big Jaw," done a high-pitched impression and said "vintage Jay" had been revealed.
Even though Letterman has said he "doesn't have a dog in this fight," his sympathies have clearly been with O'Brien. Letterman went through a similar situation when Leno stepped over him to succeed Johnny Carson on "Tonight."
Their squabble was memorably portrayed in the 1996 TV film "The Late Shift." In the past two weeks, Letterman has repeatedly referred to the details of that fallout — such as Leno eavesdropping on NBC executives by hiding in a closet.
After Leno landed "Tonight" in 1992, Letterman set up "Late Show" in 1993. Since then, the two have competed for 16 years, with Leno usually winning easily in the ratings.
Before the current mess, Letterman had seemed to have moved beyond any dislike of Leno. In a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone, he questioned NBC moving Leno out of late-night and said he "has greater appeal for more people than I do."
But clearly old wounds haven't healed, as Letterman's glee has shown.
"I'm telling jokes and making fun of Jay Leno over and over and over, relentlessly, mercilessly simply for one reason," Letterman said on Monday's show before pausing and smiling hugely: "I'm really enjoying it."