'The Jay Leno Show' leaves primetime in February

jay-leno-2-320.jpgNBC executives are facing the press Sunday after several days of speculation on the future of "The Jay Leno Show," Conan O'Brien and, basically, the entire direction of the network.

We're live-blogging what NBC Universal TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin and NBC Primetime Entertainment boss Angela Bromstad have to say starting, oh, about now. Follow the conversation.

Gaspin says right off the top that "The Jay Leno Show" will no longer air at 10 p.m. starting Feb. 12. He's proposed moving Leno to 11:35 p.m., "The Tonight Show" to 12:05 a.m. and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" at 1:05 a.m., but no deal is done.

Bromstad: "Prime Suspect" pilot is a go. So is a Bruckheimer pilot called "Chase" and a David E. Kelley drama called "Kindreds," David Shore's "Rockford Files" remake, a romantic comedy called "Love Bites" and a thriller called "The Event."

Comcast has no role in the current business, Gaspin says, and won't until the Comcast-NBC deal goes through all the regulatory process.

What goes at 10? Gaspin: "We're working on that now." Also, "I'll wait till the last second" until listings are due and ads have to go to print to make the final decision.

The change should net two more hours of scripted on the schedule, plus some more "Dateline" and maybe another reality show or two.

What didn't the network see in the "Leno Show" experiment? Gaspin: I would've loved to give it 52 weeks, but affiliates started to get antsy in November. Some local newscasts fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in their markets, and others just lost audience.

Jay did a little better in December, but it wasn't enough to turn the tide. As other affiliates got their November ratings and made it clear they'd be "vocal about their displeasure" and possibly pre-empt the show.

"The Tonight Show" will still be "The Tonight Show," with Conan as host. It'd just start a half-hour later. Gaspin doesn't want to talk about much more than that since the situation is "fluid."

Leno was making money at 10 for the network. If they'd had 52 weeks, they would've known better whether it was a good idea: "For the network, it was not yet a wrong decision."

The pilot for "Rex Is Not Your Lawyer" with David Tennant has finished shooting, and Bromstad says that "theoretically" it could be something that fills part of the 10 p.m. hole come spring.

What about "Friday Night Lights"? It's available starting March 1 -- which doesn't mean it will be part of the spring fill-in. "L&O: Criminal Intent" is a possibility too.

Leno, O'Brien and Fallon were all "gracious and professional" when Gaspin told them of his proposal. He's not saying much beyond that, but says we're welcome to go ask them after this shakes out. I suspect many of us will take him up on that.

Gaspin also contends that there's still a problem at 10 p.m., noting that although NBC's 10 p.m. ratings are down nine-tenths of a point (in 18-49, I'm assuming, since that's NBC's currency), ABC and CBS are down a tenth too. "So tell me there's not a problem at 10 o'clock in broadcasting. ... That's rhetorical."

Could USA or Bravo shows fill the hole? Possibly, Bromstad says, but just because something works on USA doesn't necessarily mean it would work on NBC. Bromstad also thinks the development slate is really promising, and it's gonna be a good spring for the network.

Research pre-"Leno" said the show could work, and the affiliates were on board at the time. The financial pressure on the affiliates forced NBC's hand, Gaspin says.

Re: the perceived style change for Conan on "Tonight": "I wish we had the time to give Conan and Jay to get comfortable," but we didn't, Gaspin says. Maybe at 12:05 Conan will be able to do that.

A critic brings up the "Millionaire" parallel at ABC in the early '00s and how long it might take NBC to recover. Gaspin doesn't have a timeline in mind, but "as long as I see an arrow going up and not to the side or going down," he'll be happy.

And what of Carson Daly? He'll be part of NBC, but probably not as host of "Last Call," because 2 a.m. is affiliate time.

A half-hour into the session, no one has mentioned "Chuck." That's how big a deal this is.

"We might've been too early" on the (original) Leno decision, Gaspin says. By fall, "you might see us try some interesting stuff" with the schedule. Whatever that may mean.

Sponsors were never an issue with either Leno or O'Brien, Gaspin says.

And the first big laugh of the morning comes from this question: "David Hasselhoff is leaving 'America's Got Talent' ..." Howie Mandel is likely to replace him.

"Heroes"? Bromstad says NBC still likes the show but won't make a decision until it sees the pilots.

In hindsight, does NBC wish it still has "Southland"? Bromstad says she loves the creative forces on the show, but notes the ratings fell off a good bit after its premiere. She says it probably has found a better home on cable.

Earlier in the season NBC pitched an L.A.-set "Law & Order," which Dick Wolf is considering. It's going by the name "Lola" in house.

Whose fault is it that NBC is in the crapper? a critic asks. "That's an awesome question," Gaspin says. Big laugh. "Go ahead." Bromstad adds, more seriously, that they feel like things are looking up. So, apparently, not theirs.

Does Conan have the right to fear that he'll stay the host of "The Tonight Show," even if it moves back to 12:05? It's such a unique set of circumstances, Gaspin says, that he doesn't expect another upheaval like the one this year.

Credit to Gaspin for being as forthright about the situation as he probably can at the moment, and to both of them for acknowledging that this is a great big mess. Admitting you have a problem is probably the first step in fixing it, but there are a lot of steps that come after that.

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