Jay Leno lands at 10 p.m. as NBC cuts program costs
NBC appears prepared to hand over the troublesome 10 o'clock weeknight slot to Jay Leno as the company barrels through a painful restructuring brought on by low ratings and a bad economy.
Leno, the soon-to-be-exiting "Tonight Show" host who's been making rumblings about heading to ABC or elsewhere, will apparently do a nightly prime-time show. This will keep Leno in the NBC fold after Conan O'Brien takes over "Tonight" next year.
A 10 p.m. Leno show would be high-risk, especially if the host generates viewing levels no higher than the 5 million or so who tune in to watch "Tonight." But such a program would presumbly be relatively low-cost and would thus help NBC balance the books in a difficult economic environment. The move probably signals an end, at least for now, to NBC's ambitious and costly 10 p.m. dramas. "ER" is ending its run this season, and new efforts like "My Own Worst Enemy" have failed to find viewers.
At an investment conference today, NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker said that the company's flagship network may trim its programming because of the poor economy.
"Can we continue to program 22 hours of prime time? Three of our competitors don't," Zucker was quoted as saying. "Can we afford to program seven nights a week? One of our competitors doesn't. All of these questions have to be on the table. And we are actively looking at all of those questions."
Last week, the company axed three top programming execs as part of a major retrenchment. Today, the industry rumor mill buzzed with talk of more executives sent packing, including Erin Gough Wehrenberg (who, in yet another realignment this year, was made a top deputy to now-ousted studio head Katherine Pope) and Ted Frank, a three-decade-plus veteran of NBC. The network's release emphasized the return of former studio head Angela Bromstad, sidestepping mention of the latest blood-letting; a network spokeswoman declined to comment on executives exiting the company.
NBC made headlines two years ago by saying it would fill the 8 p.m. slot with low-cost fare. That maneuver has not worked out well, as the game show "Deal or No Deal" has suffered from overplaying and product-placement-heavy shows like "Knight Rider" have struggled in the ratings.
-- Scott Collins