Recent media reports suggested Leno isn't happy about being pushed off the show -- his home for 15 years -- before he is ready to retire.
NBC apparently wanted to lock in O'Brien, who has his own talk show on the network, by giving him a date when he could take over "Tonight," so he wouldn't go to another network while waiting for Leno to retire.
"Conan O'Brien will take over the 'Tonight Show' in 2009," NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said at a breakfast at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
But Zucker also said the network is trying to find other projects for Leno.
"I would very much like to keep him in the family and those discussions are going on now," Zucker said. "The good news here is that Jay Leno is under contract for another two years, so we have time to work this out. I'm hopeful Jay will be with us beyond 2009."