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Leno Prime-Time Show Done; NBC To Go Back To 'Scripted' TV

NBC over the weekend copped to its retirement of the short-lived Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. weeknights, officially announcing that its hoped-for lineup shuffle was a proposal that would have Leno and Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien squeeze into late-night together at 11:35 p.m. and 12:05 a.m., respectively.

This offering highlights the likely fact that Leno and O'Brien (and not even Carson Daly, whose own Last Call show would back up to 1:05 a.m.) have not signed off on the programming remix. But apparently, Leno's prime-time talker was killing ratings so hard that NBC had to move without a real plan B. Affiliates complained that the show's low lead-in audiences were bringing their 11 p.m. news shows down -- in some cases from first to third place.

The failed experiment put the much cheaper Leno show, "stripped" across the weeknight schedule, in place of scripted and therefore more production-intensive dramas. The idea was that even if ratings were low, NBC would make money. Maybe not.

(it was the kind of move made by overconfident, I-know-better-than-you executives -- the bankruptcy of the Los Angeles Times' parent company after its takeover by Sam Zell comes to mind -- despite the what-are-they-thinking head shaking of everyone else).

Still, Leno comes out alright. He didn't seem to want to give up his old Tonight Show slot at 11:35 p.m. to begin with, but the network had to make room for O'Brien, the heir to the Tonight Show dynasty. O'Brien would be the biggest loser here -- he moved from New York to Los Angeles to take over Leno's late-night show -- although his subsequently lukewarm ratings don't give him a lot of ammunition in the NBC conference rooms. And it appears that he might retain the vaunted Tonight Show title at 12:05.

NBC is crossing its fingers in hope that its talent will fall in line. It plans to end the Jay Leno Show just before the start of its Olympics coverage next month. "I hope and expect that before the Olympics begin we will have everything in place,'' NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin told television critics at a convention in Pasadena over the weekend.

He said Leno's strip would be replaced with "at least two more hours of scripted" shows out of the five he took up.


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