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NBC sets Jay Leno's prime-time exit and return to late night; still no deal with Conan O'Brien

Jay Leno's prime-time career on NBC will end on Feb. 12. Whether Conan O'Brien's late-night career with the network will also be ending next month remains to be seen.

Speaking to reporters at the semiannual Television Critics Assn.'s press tour, NBC Universal Television Chairman Jeff Gaspin confirmed the network will move Leno back to 11:35 p.m. when the Winter Olympics concludes at the end of February. 

GASPIN Although Leno's weeknight 10 p.m show was performing at an acceptable level for the network, "it did not meet our affiliates' needs," Gaspin said. NBC's big affiliate groups, including broadcasters Hearst Corp. and Gannett Co., had been very vocal about how Leno's show was hurting their late local news. A movement was afoot among the groups to push Leno's show from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and put local news in the 10 p.m. slot. 

"This was not going to go well if that was the case," Gaspin said regarding the threat of preemptions from affiliates. NBC's audience had dropped about 30% in the three months since Leno went on at 10 p.m. The effect on the affiliates, he said, "forces them to force our hand."

Gaspin said the network still is trying to finalize deals with Leno, O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon. NBC's hope is to put Leno back at 11:35 p.m., followed by O'Brien at 12:05 a.m and then Fallon at 1:05 a.m.

"As much as I'd like to tell you we have a done deal, the talks are still going on," Gaspin said. Leno is on board with NBC's shift in direction. O'Brien has not yet been sold on the idea of his show being pushed to 12:05. Gaspin said Leno and O'Brien have been "incredibly gracious and professional" about the whole situation.

Although O'Brien would technically keep the title of host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," a 12:05 a.m. program was not what he signed on for and his camp may try to test the waters. There may be costly penalties to him and NBC if he decides to go that route. Fox has whispered it may be interested in O'Brien, but that network would have a tough time persuading their affiliates to jump into late night. Fox may just be trying to make a complicated situation for NBC even more difficult.

ABC has indicated it is not interested at the moment in changing its late-night lineup of "Nightline" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Gaspin said Comcast Corp., the cable giant that is buying a controlling stake in NBC from parent company General Electric Co., had no role in the Leno-O'Brien decision.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: NBC's Jeff Gaspin. Credit: NBC Universal

 
Comments () | Archives (39)

I find this absurd. What appeal does Jay hold to anyone? Conan is the voice of this generation and should be kept. He is hugely popular and a great talent. NBC should realize that they should drop Jay's pathetic act along time ago and keep Conan. Jay is just plain boring and if NBC ever took the time to gather public opinion they would realize this as well.

Whenever I see Conan on TV I get a strong feeling of embarrassment on his behalf because he is simply not funny to anyone over 15. His humour is simple schoolboy humour and is witless. He is such an intellectual featherweight he irritates me. I cannot, for the life of me, see how any adult can find him funny, still less give him a TV show and pay him for it. When I think of Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, each of whom had a brain and had wit, it is so sad to see such a sad, sad substitute as is O’Brien. Why not put him on an early, early program for kids who wake up too early?

Tom: Not very bright?! Please spare the space and keep such empty headed comments to yourself.

I love my work, and NBC. But I see this legendary company being run by ineffective leaders. True, we've been hard hit by a drop in advertising revenue (all broadcasters have). But most of these programming blunders (including Leno) were conceived when times were good. Any company must be mature enough to own up to its failures and take steps to make sure those blunders aren't repeated. But I'm not seeing any accountability here. In fact most people at the higher level tend to fall upward! Disney sure didn't allow this to happen. They've done an executive house cleaning over there. Good or bad, at least it's a change.

What's with the 11:35 time slot anyway? Why can't they just make it a nice, round, simple 11:30. That extra five minutes of local news won't be missed.

Oh c'mon! Conan jumping up and down to the beat of the band and touching his nipples...now that's entertainment. Not so much.

Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, even in their current condition, are funnier than both these guys.

Resurrecting "Southland" should be NBC priority one. What a gritty, compelling hour of television that was not given its due.

Giving Leno 30 minutes at 11:35 PM that is not called "The Tonight Show," and then following it at 12:05 AM with the Ginger Nimrod is simply a temporary stay of execution.

NBC's only hope of surviving this is to revert to Leno's Tonight Show in full, and promote it with a full mea culpa from the programming geniuses, as they revert to the "classic Tonight Show" host and format.

What to do with Conan? Who cares...and take the sock puppet with you. Craig Ferguson does it better.

And to the great minds at NBC, to quote Leno from a night when he really was at the top of his game: "What were you thinking?”

This is an insult to Conan. Leno is a "has-been", a comedy thief and a hack. If this goes through, I will NEVER watch an NBC program.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Jay's humor. And he is a pretty good interviwer as well.
On the other hand, Conan's humor is childish, at best, and just plain retarded most of the time. How could NBC be so enamored of such a clearly mediocre talent.

Jay took ALL the bag of tricks with him from the Tonight Show and left Conan naked out in the cold.
Jay is a backstabbing bully. He tried to leave Letterman out in the cold and that didn't work.
Too bad for Conan.
Looks like America will be left with this Jay SCREAMING AT US FROM THE SCREEN to make sure we understand he is FUNNY.
OK JAY I"LL LAUGH JUST STOP SCREAMING AT ME ! ! !

NBC made a risky choice with the Leno program airing at 9 Central. Risk taking is not necessarily a bad thing. It did not work out and so NBC is fixing things. I don't have a problem with taking risks. Unfortunately, now that this experiment did not work we will probably little risk taking by networks in the near future but as their fortunes continue to dwindle it will probably return long term.

The solution is easy. NBC did the right thing by returning Jay to his old time slot. Now if what they propose holds, Jay for half an hour and Conan with the Tonight Show for one hour after Jay, then this will not work that well. Fans won't be satisfied with an abbreviated Jay Show.

Jay garnered high ratings and Conan gets disappointing ratings. The funny thing is that NBC is not in violation of their deal with Conan by bumping him half an hour later and letting his keep "The Tonight Show" title. If NBC violated the deal they would owe Conan $45 million.

Now Conan threatens to go to Fox and I say I hope he leaves for Fox. Let Conan launch a program and we will see if he succeeds. Let Jay take back "The Tonight Show" and go on several years longer. He will beat Letterman.

Who cares about grooming a successor? It's not rocket science to find someone to replace Leno down the line.

NBC made a risky choice with the Leno program airing at 9 Central. Risk taking is not necessarily a bad thing. It did not work out and so NBC is fixing things. I don't have a problem with taking risks. Unfortunately, now that this experiment did not work we will probably little risk taking by networks in the near future but as their fortunes continue to dwindle it will probably return long term.

The solution is easy. NBC did the right thing by returning Jay to his old time slot. Now if what they propose holds, Jay for half an hour and Conan with the Tonight Show for one hour after Jay, then this will not work that well. Fans won't be satisfied with an abbreviated Jay Show.

Jay garnered high ratings and Conan gets disappointing ratings. The funny thing is that NBC is not in violation of their deal with Conan by bumping him half an hour later and letting his keep "The Tonight Show" title. If NBC violated the deal they would owe Conan $45 million.

Now Conan threatens to go to Fox and I say I hope he leaves for Fox. Let Conan launch a program and we will see if he succeeds. Let Jay take back "The Tonight Show" and go on several years longer. He will beat Letterman.

Who cares about grooming a successor? It's not rocket science to find someone to replace Leno down the line.

Everyone talks about how great it is that Jay is back nobody mentions the hundreds os TV Crew members that lost their jobs , to make room for lame ass Jay and his walking and talking to morons innovative television. They should fire Jeff Zucker and that other joke of an Exec Jeff Gaspin whos running around saying this is where J belongs I hope Letterman kills the Tonight Show.

let's put jay in his old slot, he has the right. i watched him for years
and plan to watch him for many more. I was dissapointed to hear conan
slamming leno. bad taste.. is a bad situation & hope it can be resolved.

NBC, Comcast are two of the most screwed up companies in the business, truly a marriage made in hell. Conan should flip them the bird and go to Fox, and jay should tell NBC to get screwed and retire. Gaspin should suck on a gun.

For those readers who are too young to recall - or who weren't particularly interested, at the time - it might help to get some background on the whole Leno v. Letterman story. Read all about how Jay Leno acquired The Tonight Show hosting gig, way back in 1993.
.
http://bit.ly/6FjAQq (article from NY Times; 1994)

 
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