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Lisa's lost blog entry: NBC yanks Jay Leno from primetime

Winter TV Press Tour 2010

This blog entry was first submitted on Sunday, Jan. 10. Why it did not turn up in the blog is a question for greater minds than ours.

NBC finally confirmed it is killing its botched 10 o'clock "The Jay Leno Show" experiment and is moving the host back to late night as part of a network plan to get "back to basics" by scheduling all its late night hosts in, you know, late night.

But while Leno has been offered his old 11:35 p.m. start time Monday through Friday, he will not get "The Tonight Show" name, NBC Universal Television Entertainment chief Jeff Gaspin told a rapt crowd of reporters Sunday morning.

That's been offered to its current host, Conan O'Brien, though the show will now start at 12:05 and run for an hour, to be followed by Jimmy Fallon's show.

"As much as I'd like to tell you we have a done deal that is not true. Talks are still ongoing," Gaspin told The Reporters Who Cover Television at Winter TV Press Tour 2010.

Gaspin would not confirm which hosts had and had not accepted the change of assignment, saying all three had been given the weekend to mull things over. But he did say he fully expects all negotiations to be wrapped up by the time NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics start Feb. 12. Leno's 10 p.m. show is not officially over until those Games begin.

"I can't imagine we won't have everything in place before that," Gaspin said.

Leno's prime-time show failed because it didn't deliver enough viewers to local station's 11 p.m. newscasts. The show was not a failure for the NBC network, Gaspin insisted.

"It was working at acceptable levels financially" for the network, Gaspin said. "We were actually making money at 10 o'clock."

The bold plan to schedule a relatively low-cost talk show in the 10 p.m. hour, five nights a week, initially had the full support of NBC stations, he argued. As for the plan to give the Leno prime-time experiment a full 52-week tryout - it has only been on the air 17 weeks - the bell began to toll for "TJLS" at the end of the November sweeps when bigwigs from the larger NBC television stations around the country, who get their sweeps numbers first, started contacting the network to complain their local news had been impacted more than expected.

After that, the smaller stations started getting their numbers and it was pretty much over.
"They started a drumbeat that started getting louder and louder," Gaspin told the crowd. "Toward the middle of December they made it clear they would start to be more vocal and would start to talk about the possibility of preemption and we realized this is just not going to go well if we kept things in place."

The problem with Jay's show was not one of quality, Gaspin insisted.

"While we thought a joinable program could be everybody's second choice, really what happened was there were so many other choices people thought were better."

And though it's only Day 2 of the Winter TV Press Tour, we are ready now to pronounce it the Best Quote of the Tour By a Network Suit - and maybe for all of 2010. Really, who's going to top that one?

And yet, mostly Gaspin had the reporters eating out of his hand during his rambunctious Q&A session, which he shared with NBC's programming chief Angela Bromstad.

Asked what would fill the 10 p.m. weekday hour on NBC now that Leno's prime-time show has been killed, Gaspin said he guessed that killing Leno's 10 pm showcase will bring back only two hours of scripted dramas on NBC, though that might not materialize until the fall. Also, viewers can expect another reality hour and expanded episodes of "Dateline," Gaspin said.

Plus, Sunday's announcement virtually ensures another season of "Law & Order: The Mothership" and creator Dick Wolf is already at work on another spinoff, "Law & Order: L.A.," which Gaspin said Wolf "affectionately calls "LOLA."

For the rest of this season, NBC has limited inventory, including "Friday Night Lights" and episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

One cynical reporter asked Gaspin to reveal "what's next for the revolution," and the exec didn't exactly echo his network's The Business Is Broken and We're Going to Fix It bravado. Over the past few seasons, NBC had announced that the 8 p.m. time slot was broken and NBC was going to fix it; the broadcast industry's upfront week was broken and NBC was going to fix it; and the 10 p.m. time slot was broken and NBC was going to fix it, with Jay Leno, of course.

Now, however, "going back to basics is probably our best play," an unapologetic Gaspin explained.

An even more cynical reporter wanted to know whose fault this all was - former NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios co-chairman Ben Silverman, or current NBC Universal grand poobah Jeff Zucker.

That's an awesome question," Gaspin cracked - then he let Bromstad answer it. (This guy's going to be around a long time.)

Bromstad noted that she and Gaspin were on stage "because of Jeff Zucker."

Silverman takes the fall!

When asked how long he thinks it will take NBC to recover from Jay Leno at 10, Gaspin said, "Whether it's all back to where it was, in a year or six months - as long as I see an hour going up, instead of to the side or down - I'll be happy."

One reporter wondered whether Gaspin had given any thought to putting Leno and O'Brien on "The Tonight Show" together - like Sonny and Cher when they did that variety show for CBS after they'd divorced. Gaspin resisted the urge to hit the reporter over the head with a blunt instrument and said that while he had thought of a lot of combinations, "that was not one of them."

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 11, 2010; 11:21 AM ET
Categories:  TV News , Winter TV Press Tour 2010  
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Next: Jerry Seinfeld defends NBC in Conan/Leno switcheroo

Comments

I remember seeing this sometime Sunday afternoon.

Posted by: Cosmo06 | January 11, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I read the title as 'Lisa's Last Blog Entry'. Don't scare me that way.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 11, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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