NBC Confirms Leno's 10 p.m. Run Will End

Returns Talk-Show Host to Late Night But Hopes to Keep O'Brien and Fallon

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- NBC confirmed Sunday that it will end the run of its much-scrutinized and oft-criticized "The Jay Leno Show" in prime time as of February 12th, just as its broadcast of the Winter Olympics ends. The network also said it will make other moves, reversing its tilt away from the traditions of the broadcast TV business.

Jay Leno
Jay Leno Credit: NBC
In a presentation to TV critics, Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, confirmed the much-anticipated move, saying that the show's low ratings had hurt affiliates' ability to garner ratings -- and thus ad dollars -- for their late local newscasts. He said NBC hoped to put Mr. Leno in place at 11:35 p.m., move Conan O'Brien and his "Tonight Show" to 12:05 a.m. and run Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" at 1:05 a.m. Those plans could be altered, however, depending on whether or not deals can be struck with the hosts and their management teams.

NBC also suggested it would reverse its reduced investment in prime-time programming, a strategy that left it trailing most of its broadcast rivals in the ratings. NBC said it was preparing a "large slate of dramas" for the 2010-2011 season. In a press release, the network said it had struck deals for pilots from such well-known producers as J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer and David E. Kelley. The network also said it would consider a pilot for a remade version of TV-classic "The Rockford Files" from "House" producer David Shore.

Responding to affiliates
Mr. Gaspin said during his remarks that executives felt Mr. Leno's show was of good quality and that it could have grown its ratings over time. But after seeing November ratings, he said, some NBC affiliates were suggesting they might pre-empt the program in order to boost audiences.

"While it was performing at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet our affiliates' needs and we realized we had to make a change," Mr. Gaspin told reporters today at the Television Critics Association conference in Pasadena, Calif.

"My goal right now is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy as part of our late night lineup," he said. "I've spoken to all of them and proposed that 'The Jay Leno Show' move to 11:35, 'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien' move to 12:05 and 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon' would then start at 1:05. As much as I would like to tell you we have a done deal, we know that's not true. The talks are still ongoing."

NBC is likely to fill the hours left vacant by the 10 p.m. "Leno" program with a mix of dramas and other programs, Mr. Gaspin said. He suggested "Friday Night Lights" would become available to the network in March and also said an hour of the news program "Dateline" could be used.

In another move that brings NBC closer again to the traditions of the broadcast TV business, the network said it would no longer host an "infront," or an early look at its fall schedule held several weeks before rivals made theirs in May. For the last two years, NBC has relied on its "infront" to get the word out to media buyers and advertisers about new fall programs earlier than others, in the hopes such talks would spark talks about possible ad commitments and branded-entertainment deals.

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