NBC considers Leno back at late nights

Updated: NBC confirms Leno will no longer air at the bold 10pm timeslot on NBC from mid February, leaving question marks over the network's programming.

US media commentators are all speculating what NBC will do with The Jay Leno Show, widely perceived as a scheduling failure since it moved to the competitive 10pm timeslot. In the US, 10pm is still prime viewing where shows like Brothers and Sisters, Castle, Ugly Betty, Private Practice, Criminal Minds, The Good Wife and CSI: Miami all air.

Moving Leno to 10pm was considered the boldest programming move of the Fall Season, with Hollywood Reporter recently including his switch in a retrospective story on the decade’s biggest blunders.

NBC knew Leno‘s shift would take time. In September CEO Jeff Zucker said, “We’re going to judge this on 52 weeks.”

But after 17 weeks, the network is mulling an idea to return in to 11:35pm, shortened to 30 minutes, with The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien to bump back to 12:05pm. Affiliate stations also want Leno back to late nights, claiming it has cost them revenue.

Such a move would leave the network looking for 5 one hour fillers, with pilots in development not ready until Fall 2010.

O’Brien is said to be unwillingly to move quietly, while the FOX Network is already waving its hand with interest in him.

Even Leno gagged about what might happen if he got the axe.

“I hear FOX is beautiful this time of year,” he said during Thursday night’s monologue while O’Brien joked how when he arrived on the studio lot on Friday Leno‘s car was parked in his spot.

Meanwhile CBS has benefitted from NBC’s blunder,with CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler saying it has helped her network “get a bigger piece of the ad revenue pie at 10 p.m.”  CBS is said to be “very close” to extending contracts of late-night hosts David Letterman and Craig Ferguson well into 2012.

In Australia both NBC shows air on the Comedy Channel while 7TWO moves The Jay Leno Show to midday from next Monday.

Updated: NBC has now confirmed as of February 12th, Leno will no longer air at 10pm. As to the future, it remains unclear. The network does want him at 11:35pm for half an hour but as this impacts on Conan and Jimmy Fallon the situation is still unclear.

NBC Universal TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin said, “While it was performing at acceptable levels, it did not meet our affiliates’ needs. My goal right now is to keep Jay (Leno), Conan (O’Brien) and Jimmy (Fallon) as part of our late-night lineup. As much as I’d like to tell you we have a done deal, we know that’s not true.”

Source: NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Age, The Hollywood Reporter

18 Responses

  1. Conan should not be punished for having such a weak lead in.

    The Letterman scandals also didn’t help Conan’s ratings, first the Sarah Palin thing, then the sex/blackmail saga.

    Leno has never been funny but I always thought he was likeable. In the last couple of years, his desperate on air whining and begging for a job has been pathetic.

  2. @ Craig(Buzz) – I reckon it’s not the Leno show’s ratings so much as the drop in viewers for their affiliate’s 11pm news bulletins, They probably do better leading into Leno than out of him because people would stick around for his Monologue (which is still the best monologue on TV and the best thing about his show)

  3. @ Andy – Leno didn’t quite quit – a deal was brokered so there would be an ‘orderly transition’ problem was as NBC had less and less in the tank come 2009 they started to scramble for ways to keep Leno at the network (keep him from running to the competition)

    Leno once famously joked that NBC stands for “Never Beleive your Contract” once again it’s been proven!

    If I were Jay – I’d walk right on over to Fox who would jump at the chance to get him / conversely they’d jump at O’Brien too – either way NBC would lose.

    CBS should feel too smug either – if Leno goes back to Late Night, Letterman’s ratings will be headed back down!

  4. Bit of a surprise,considering the show has rated better,than other shows that NBC has shown in recent years in that timeslot.You would think they would stick with it because of that reason

  5. Didn’t this all start because NBC didn’t want Conan to jump ship 5 years (or so) back? NBC gambled that Jay’s version of the Tonight Show would lose ratings and he’d be ready to retire by 2008, so he’d then hand over to the (relatively) younger guy. Although he is definitely not a critic’s choice, when the time came Leno was still winning the ratings but got moved aside for Conan. Channel 10 doesn’t need to show another repeat of Mean GIrls, just give us a run through of all the backstabbing, bitchyness and apparently fragile egos of late night american tv.

  6. im not surprised by this but to do it mid season seems odd,they have 5 hours of prime time TV to fill between feb and the end of the season in may and they dont really have any content to do it with…very bizarre indeed…the affiliates must have kicked up a hell of a stink for them to act now!

  7. “In the US, 10pm is still prime viewing”

    I know that’s the case, but what is it about the US audience that makes it this way? I have always wondered how the “late night” shows attract a large enough audience. In Australia surely the late night audience consists mostly of shift workers? Do US audiences just stay up later than us?

  8. Axe Leno already! He’s the one who quit The Tonight Show, just so he could come back with a show with his name in the title. Conan is 100 times funnier. If Leno’s show is failing, why do NBC want to keep him? Why not put Leno on at 12:35am, and move Late Night to 1:05am. Anyway, I’ll watch Conan wherever he goes.

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