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NBC Confirms Leno Will Leave Prime Time in February

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NYTimes: "The Jay Leno Show" will exit prime time on Feb. 11, NBC confirmed on Sunday. But the network does not yet know what its future late-night lineup will look like.

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Jeff Gaspin, the chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, told reporters at a press event that conversations were continuing with Conan O'Brien, the host of "The Tonight Show," about a proposal to push his program back half an hour to 12:05 a.m. The move would make room for a truncated version of "The Jay Leno Show" at 11:35 p.m.

Mr. Gaspin said conversations with Mr. Leno, Mr. O'Brien and the "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon would resume on Monday. "My goal right now is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy 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," Mr. Gaspin said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Talks are still ongoing," Mr. Gaspin added.

There was initial confusion on Sunday about Mr. Leno's prime time end date. Mr. Gaspin said the move is effective Feb. 12. An NBC spokeswoman confirmed that the last 10 p.m. program will be shown on Feb. 11.

The announcement on Sunday, which followed several days of private negotiations inside NBC, is an embarrassing retreat for NBC, which had heralded Mr. Leno's 10 p.m. show as transformational because it could be produced for far less money than expensive dramas that had been in that hour. The program had its premiere just 17 weeks ago.

Separately, the network announced an aggressive slate of pilot programs, and said it would scrap its early spring "infront" presentations for advertisers, instead opting for a traditional upfront in May.

Mr. Gaspin said the 10 p.m. experiment with Mr. Leno was "working financially" for the network. But it was not working for NBC's affiliate stations. Many of the stations saw the ratings for their 11 p.m. newscasts drop precipitously after "The Jay Leno Show" debuted last September.

"The audiences that were watching the show were smaller than we anticipated, and they were not staying for the late news," said Michael Fiorile, the chairman of the NBC affiliates board.

In some cities -- including Indianapolis, at Mr. Fiorile's station, WTHR -- the NBC stations that had been No. 1 in the ratings at 11 p.m. were suddenly No. 2 for the first time in many years.

"It was a problem at 10, it was a problem at 11, it was a problem at 11:35," Mr. Fiorile said.

According to the Associated Press, "some affiliates told NBC in December they would go public soon about their complaints if a change wasn't made, or even take Leno's show off the air."

In a telephone interview Sunday afternoon after the announcement was made, Mr. Fiorile said "there were serious concerns about the program" among the affiliates, but denied that there was an outright revolt. "There was no organized approach to what we might or might not do," he said.

But the Leno concerns were on the agenda for an NBC affiliates board meeting on Jan. 21.

Publicly, word of NBC's plan to move Mr. Leno out of prime time emerged last Thursday, but the network remained silent about it until Sunday, when Mr. Gaspin was scheduled to speak with television reporters at a previously scheduled press event.

Mr. Gaspin said a revised lineup would go into effect after NBC concludes its coverage of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 28. NBC will pre-empt its prime-time and late-night lineup for more than two weeks to cover the Olympics, creating a natural break in which to make the changes.

But what programs will be scheduled in the time slot? Mr. Gaspin said he expected to fill the hour with an unspecified combination of dramas, reality shows, repeats, and the "Dateline" newsmagazine.

As a result of the 10 p.m. retreat, Carson Daly, NBC's very-late-night show host, may be out of a job. His show starts at 1:35 a.m. now, and Mr. Gaspin said it can't be moved back half an hour because the network does not control the hour starting at 2 a.m. But he said NBC Universal remained committed to Mr. Daly "regardless of what happens."

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