Rumors swirled yesterday that NBC was considering moving Jay Leno from his convention-breaking primetime 10 p.m. slot back to his old home at 11:30 — effectively pushing current late-night host Conan O’Brien out.
In response to the rumors, which ranged from Leno’s 10 p.m. show being suspended or canceled to O’Brien getting the boot altogether, NBC issued statements in support of both hosts, but refused to deny the rumors. But as the night wore on, The New York Times‘ Bill Carter had the scoop: discussions are in the works to shuffle NBC’s late-night line up while the network tries to hold on to all its current hosts:
“The network has a plan in the works to restore Jay Leno to his old spot at 11:35 each weeknight for a half-hour, while pushing the man who replaced him, Conan O’Brien, to a starting time of 12:05 a.m. Mr. O’Brien would then have a full hour.”
The change, which would take place after NBC’s Olympic coverage wraps up in February, comes in response to complaints from NBC’s local affiliates, who have seen local news ratings dip following Leno’s primetime debut in September, Carter added.
Carter literally wrote the book about late-night; in his book Desperate Networks, he outlined the deals NBC made in order to keep O’Brien from defecting to a rival network, like David Letterman did in the 90’s. NBC promised O’Brien the “Tonight Show” gig years ago, but when it came time to follow through, Leno and his record ratings proved difficult to unseat. Former NBC exec Ben Silverman engineered Leno’s move to 10 p.m. instead of risking losing him or O’Brien.
This latest move seems like a desperate attempt to make everyone happy — affiliates, advertisers, viewers and the hosts themselves. It’s a difficult juggling act that the network is not certain to pull off. But there’s nothing wrong with shaking up the late-night line-up and television scheduling rules that have been in effect for decades. If it works, it could set the stage for other networks to change the way they think about late-night scheduling. But that’s what everyone said about Leno’s move to primetime, although most agreed it would probably not be successful.
The last thing NBC wants is for its popular hosts to defect to another channel and take its viewers in the process. Contractually, O’Brien may not be able to leave NBC, especially if they decide to keep calling his show the “Tonight Show,” Carter explained in the Times today. But that doesn’t mean that Leno and O’Brien have to be happy about all the shuffling. In his monologue last night, Leno joked about the rumors. “I understand FOX is beautiful this time of year,” he said.
Read More: Late-Night Shift Sinking, NBC Wants Leno Back in Old Slot —New York Times
Previously: Time: Jay Leno Is The Future Of TV